Traditionally, education was viewed as a need that was optional and could be substituted to meet other life’s important basics. Today, provision of education has become a government’s social responsibility in a majority of the countries.
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However, the challenge remains on the provision of inclusive education and schooling, and how best to tailor the country’s educational system to produce citizens who can effectively meet the society’s desired qualities. The needs of the society have been continuously transformed by globalization and as such, countries and societies have had to constantly undertake reforms in their educational systems.
Background Information on Education in Iceland
In Iceland, the provision of compulsory education is the responsibility of the government. According to the reforms made by the government in 2008 on compulsory education, it is the responsibility of the local municipalities to provide education to all the children in the pre-primary and compulsory school level (European Commission. 2009).
Compulsory education is applicable to all children between the ages six and sixteen. The state is charged with the responsibility of providing upper secondary and higher education (European Commission. 2009). The law requires that pupils attending compulsory education to do so on a full time basis and.
In addition, the state has also defined the roles of the parent as that of ensuring that children register for school (European Commission, 2009). It is also the parent’s role to ensure that children attend school. The local municipalities ensure that pupils are given instructions recommended by the law while the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture supervises the implementation process.
According to the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture (2010), the educational structure of schools in Iceland comprise of the pre-primary level, the compulsory level, the upper secondary level and finally, the higher education. The compulsory level comprise of the single structure-primary and the lower secondary.
Pre-primary education is available for children between the ages of 3 and 5, after which they progress to primary schools at the age six and later on enter lower secondary schools at age 11. Students enter upper secondary schools at age 14 after completing their tenth grade and graduate from the upper secondary in the thirteenth grade at age 16 or 17 (UNESCO, 2008).
All the state and municipality levels, schools are expected to follow the national curriculum provided by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. At the pre-primary level, the teachers in the schools are given the responsibility of determining the school’s curriculum.
According to the European Commission, (2009), the subjects covered at the compulsory level of education include Mathematics, natural sciences, English, social sciences (including History and Geography), art and craft, Physical Education, religious studies, as well as equal rights affairs. The pupils at this level of education are also taught Icelandic as a second language.
The curriculum also includes information and communication technology, life skills as well as other foreign languages like Danish, Spanish, or French. At the upper secondary level, the students are taught Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics, and Biology, information technology, Economics, History, arts and craft, psychology, environmental systems as well as other languages.
Teaching of the Icelandic curriculum is done using the country’s native language, Icelandic (European Commission, 2009). The curriculum also provides for extra-curricular and social activities which are incorporated in the daily school activities. Teachers have the autonomy to decide on the teaching methods and materials appropriate for achieving the objectives in each situation.
However, instructions for each subject are clearly defined in the curriculum and those that require exposure of learners to their immediate environment normally takes place in the form of field trips. The curriculum requires that assessment be done regularly so as to monitor the learners’ progress.
There is no examination at the end of the compulsory curriculum in grade ten, however, the principal of the compulsory school awards the learner with a certificate of completion (European Commission, 2009). However, at the upper secondary and tertiary levels of education, the subjects are divided into modules and students are assessed at the end of every semester and are graded according to the unit-credit system.
Theories of learning supporting Education in Iceland
This approach is derived from the Humanistic theories of learning which emphasize on the natural desire by learners to always gain more knowledge and the need to allow learners to control their learning process as the teachers are reduced to facilitators of the learning process.
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One such humanistic theory is the constructivism theory which argues that human beings develop knowledge and meaning through the interaction of their ideas and experiences. Thus, learners would normally build knowledge upon that that they have already acquired.
It also implies learning from experience is very important and therefore it is essential to apply teaching and learning process that incorporates learning through experience. According to Wertsch, (1997), the learner takes an active role in the learning process.
This theory recognizes that each learner is unique and has complex needs and therefore it is important that teachers understand the entry behavior of each learner and the learner’s unique learning ability.
According to Wertsch, (1997), the learners background and culture help shape the knowledge and facts that the learner discovers and acquires during the learning process. The teacher has to consider all these when planning any learning content to be delivered to the learners.
Social constructivism theory
According to the social constructivism theory, learners learn best through experience and therefore discovery approach should be aimed at providing experience that would enable learners construct knowledge and make sense of the concepts being learnt (Pajares and Schunk, 2001). It also states that learners can conceptualize any information no matter the level or the age of the learner provided that the knowledge is reinforced.
Thus a learner centered approach should prepare learners with the specific capacities that are necessary for the learner to interact with and in the world that may not be acquired in any other social settings (Pajares and Schunk, 2001). This theory suggests that teachers should take into consideration learner’s interest.
It is also important for teachers to provide an environment and learning opportunities that enable learners to articulate the knowledge. Repeated experience on the concepts being learnt will enable learners to internalize and apply the concepts in a more sophisticated constructs (Gardner, 2005 and; Pajares and Schunk, 2001).
These experiences provided in terms of experiments should not be provided in the school setting alone but should include the wider society so as to integrate societal experience and school experience (Gardner, 2005). This theory also suggests that there should be no limits to learning and therefore learners should always be encouraged to gain more knowledge.
Purpose and Scope of the Study
The main purpose of the study is to investigate the education system in Iceland. It seeks to find out what the government and the Icelandic society as a whole is doing in order to achieve an inclusive education and schooling for its multicultural society.
The aim of the study is to acquire best practices employed in the Icelandic educational systems and to analyse the deficiencies that exist in the education system that needs to be improved.
The objective of the study is to enable the education providers achieve highest quality of professional development for their learners especially at the primary and secondary levels of education. This study was done so as to provide future education reformers with base line or reference for carrying out reforms.
The scope of this study covers the Icelandic curriculum and pedagogical strategies applied in imparting the society’s desired knowledge, skills, values and morals. It discusses the assessment strategies applied to gauge the level of learning in the learners.
The study also looks into the role played by the school environment including collaboration with the school parents in shaping the behaviuor of the learners and the learning outcomes. The study also covers the role played by the school culture in the learning process as well as the roles played by the school curriculum and school community in shaping the leadership and organization of the individuals.
The study critically examined incidences in educational systems and practices so as to discover factors that help teachers and the general school community provide quality and an all inclusive education and schooling. This was done in order to determine the activities and practices which best foster successful learning in Iceland Schools.
The research methodology that was used to collect information was a one-to-one interview. Selecting the school of study involved an underground research through the internet. The selection of the school was based on how modern, the school environment and the school’s mission statement. Finally I decided on Nordlingaskoli , a new school in Reykjavishire.
The principal of Nordllingaskoli was contacted to request for a meeting with him which he confirmed and thereafter an appointment was booked. A questionnaire was designed to cover all the areas of study. The questionnaire prepared consisted of open-ended questions only; to help gather more information and the attitude of the principle towards the education system.
The School’s Background Information
Nordlingaskoli is a new school located in the rural Reykjavishire in RVS District. It has a small student population of about 200 students but this is anticipated to increase before the end of the year. The school uses the national curriculum guidelines in planning its school activities.
However, the school’s educational system is unique since it applies a mixed-age group in its teaching and learning programmes. Besides, the system focuses more on provision of art and craft and environmental studies. The school has a very unique system of education which applies mixed-age group learning. The principal’s name is Sif Vígþórsdóttir.
Curriculum, pedagogy and assessment
Vígþórsdóttir explained that the school uses the national curriculum guide to plan and carry out its school activities although the planning of the school activities is also based on the aspirations and objectives of the school. Besides, teachers joining the school have to pass an orientation system and be fully informed on the objectives of the school and how the school is meeting the learners’ unique needs.
The principal also explained that the assessment of learners takes different forms. Learners can be assessed in their learning groups or individually. The assessment includes both formal and informal evaluation done by the individual teachers.
The school has various electives available for the learners. Although it focuses more on art and environment studies, there are also other practical and interesting programmes like home economics, music, drama, information technology among others.
The school provides many elective subjects to give the students wide options to choose from and to offer flexibility to learners as well as to give the teachers the time to offer individual tutorials to learners. The school also has plans to increase the number of teachers, introduce more programmes and expand its facilities in order to meet the speculated increase in demand for its services.
The schools programme of differentiation has been successful according to the school principal. Students are allowed and helped to choose the groups they prefer to join according to their learning abilities and their learning aspirations.
Differentiation and mixed-age groupings enables pupils learn from each other particularly from the older members and therefore pupils are better enabled to grasp knowledge and thus they are better enabled to achieve their learning outcomes.
Besides, the teachers can easily provide for the needs of the groups rather than for an individual. Differentiation enables teachers to plan for every individual and at the same time makes school activities to be flexible. Differentiation and mixed-age groups enable learners achieve maximum results and inner motivation to acquire more knowledge and skills.
The learner identifies the area of interest and both the teacher and parent help the learner choose his or her area of interest. The teacher discusses the ability of the learner with the parent in order to help the learner choose the area of interest that best suits his or her abilities and meets is or her needs.
The school is very much prepared to meet the needs of learners who join the school while they are still very young. The instruction materials are tailored to motivate them and help them concentrate in learning activities. The instruction contents given to them do not cover wider learning content and also involved more activities that develop their motor skills like play and other outdoor activities.
According to the principal, school systems with shorter working periods are not able to complete their programmes or even adequately provide for the individual needs of their learners. This means that in most cases learners have to endure with daily classroom activities which may be boring if done continuously.
Besides, the teachers do not get the time to expose learners to the realities in their environment and thus the learners may not be able to apply or connect the knowledge and skills learnt in class to the real world.
According to the principal, the students are easily assimilated in other learning systems particularly in the upper secondary schools since most of their learning is practical. The workshops which the school organizes for the learners impart practical skills which are very much related to the vocational training offered in the upper secondary schools or even in job applications.
The practical skills offered to the learners make them more competent and better equipped to solve problems that occur in real life situations. The outdoor activities and the mixed-age groups in the school enable learners develop life skills and social skills which are very important in socializing within the society.
Vígþórsdóttir explained that the school operates in accordance with the guidelines provided by the national curriculum which require that learners should be automatically promoted to the next class. Therefore the age and the year of entry determine the promotion to the next level.
Surroundings and material
The outdoor activities carried out as part of school activities are normally under the close supervision of the teacher who provides guidance on the activities. Besides, students are normally in their groups hence easier to manage since members of a group are responsible for each individual in the group. Students’ health is the responsibility of both the teacher and the parents.
Since the goals of the school are shared by the parents and they understand what the school plans to achieve, they understand that their children need to keep their children warm always. This helps the school protect the lives of the learners from the weather conditions that might affect the learners’ lives. Besides, the learners also have free health care provided by the government.
Enhancing the students’ concentration while in class is very important in the school, therefore the teachers ensure that the instructional materials provided are interesting and that the learning content and the instructional materials have been decided upon by the learners and the teacher. These enhance the learners’ concentration and also motivate the learners.
Conflict resolution is a very important aspect of education in a multicultural education today. According to Vígþórsdóttir, the school is committed to promoting learners’ appreciation of diversity and how to overcome prejudice. According to Wendy (1994), it is also important to teach the learners how to manager their anger and be tolerant to each other. This enables learners control their emotions (Banks and Banks, 2005).
The guidance and counseling department takes the lead in helping the learners understand the need to exist in unity in diversity. According to the principal, the school understands that wherever the learners come from, there is normally prejudice instilled into them by their respective societies; therefore it is very important to teach learners to avoid acting on their prejudice that they come with from their respective communities.
The school organises bonding workshops at the beginning of each academic year in autumn in what the school considers to be the biggest workshop in the school called the “The Homestead”.
Since the school exists in an environment with trees it is not difficult acquiring the materials for the wood work lessons. Again, since the school is a public one, these materials are provided for by the government (European Commission, 2009).
According the principal, some materials are also bought by the school and at the same time, learners are given the chance to go for field trips to observe what happens in woodwork workshops or tree forests.
According to Vígþórsdóttir, the school organises and sponsor many local and international community outreach programmes such as Habit for Humans. Learners collaborate with the school community activities such as cleaning the environment, garbage collections and sorting, tree planting and many others.
Languages of the school
The official languages that the learners are supposed to use while in school are English and Icelandic. However, learners are also encouraged to keep their native languages since the school believes that one can better learn a second language through his or her mother tongue.
According to Vígþórsdóttir, the school does not find it difficult dealing with the diversity of languages since the teaching staff also comprises of diverse languages. The staff operates as a team, shares and cooperatively solves problems that they meet while dealing with the learners.
School culture: Communication, collaboration and atmosphere
The uniqueness of the school system is not at all a barrier to the learners’ interaction with the outside world. According to the principle, the school is involved in many programmes which ensure that they are not cut out of the outside world. They are involved in music, drama and sports activities such as basketball, football, volleyball and baseball, and tennis, dance, cheerleading, and swimming among many others.
These activities are distributed across the three seasons of autumn, winter and spring which find the learners in school. The sports activities give the learners a chance to compete and interact with other schools and the outside community. Besides, the learners are also given the opportunity to participate in inter-school academic activities, science congress and other students’ forums.
The school has computer laboratory connected to the internet. This gives the learners the opportunity to connect to the outside world and to even invite community resource persons of their own choice.
The school also invites experts, professionals, artists and other community resources persons to come share with the learners. The school appreciates the uniqueness of the other neighbouring schools and organises collaborative activities with the neighbouring schools to gain from the different learning experiences that the other learners are exposed to.
The school also organises collaborative activities with the neighbouring schools to enable its learners better develop their social skills and to increase their network of friends.
The school is aware of the diversity of cultural backgrounds among the teachers, learners and teachers. According to Vígþórsdóttir, the teachers have in mind the school’s code of conduct and code of ethics.
The code of conduct provides them with a guideline on how they are supposed to carry out their duties and how they are supposed to interact. It also provides a guideline on how they are supposed to enhance teamwork in the various groups that exist in the staff which include academic departments and other activities; as well as in the staff as a whole.
Besides, the leadership structures within the school administration enable the teachers work harmoniously as a team. They also use the internet to share the learning contents, learning materials and other resources which enhance teaching and learning.
The environment created by the diversity in teachers, learners and parents is stimulating and provides the learners with a rich experience and exposure.
The diversity that exists in the school community gives the school an international image and in turn an international exposure and international understanding of other people’s culture. The diversity in the school community especially the involvement of parents in the learning activities of school enriches the learners’ learning content.
Since its inception, the school has applied teaching strategies that involve differentiation and co-operative learning which have ensured that each student’s work and learning corresponds to his or her needs. Nordlingaskoli believes in the uniqueness of its learners and provides the best environment for optimum achievement of learners’ objectives.
The school offers tailor-made conditions that meet individual learners’ needs. The school is also on course to developing a new reference table which would better enable the school to apply its differentiation programmes to the speculated large numbers of learners in the near future. The programme is being developed in collaboration with the municipal as well as the national education authorities.
This would ensure that the programme meets the national education standards in provision of learners’ areas of interest such as art and craft, environmental studies and many more. According to Vígþórsdóttir, this would enhance flexibility in meeting the needs of the learners. Besides, the diversity in the staff would enable individual learners’ attendance.
The principal also noted that the school plans to recruit even more diverse teachers to meet the needs of the expected increase in culture. According to Ragnarsdóttir, (2010), it is important to develop a common organizational culture which respects every idea from other cultures.
More teachers from different cultures will enable provision of more languages taught in the school and hence help teachers provide for individual tutorial programmes to the learners (Bennett, 1999).
Collaboration with homes/families and communities
Although fully engaging parents has been a bit challenging since much of their time is consumed by their work, most parents have occasionally turned up whenever called upon. The parents are very much committed to their children’s development. The first day of the learner’s attendance at school takes place at home and two teachers, male and female visit the learner and the parent(s).
According to the principal of the school, the parents are involved in setting the objectives of the outcomes of their children, assessing the progress of their children, providing resources, counseling their children and evaluating the performance of the school.
All the teachers and the administration have access to the parents’ email addresses which are available in each learner’s file and the school’s database. This makes communication with the parents to be easier in case of problems or any issue that requires the parent’s involvement.
The surrounding community has also been involved in the various school activities. The surrounding school community provides security to the learners and the school as a whole.
They also protect the surrounding environment which includes the local river and the nearby forest which are used by the teachers to provide the needed experience during outdoor activities. The school also collaborates with surrounding community in community outreach programmes such as tree planting and other environment conservation measures.
The principal explained that modeling the school culture and environment to fit in the community involves creating a common organizational culture that understands the needs and applies the ideas of the community.
The teaching materials and learning contents have been tailored to utilize the resources from the local community. Most outdoor activities take place in the local community environment and the experiences which learners are exposed to are derived from the local community.
Leadership and organization
The principal explains that the school has various outbound activities, workshops, outdoor activities and mixed-age groups which enrich the development of leadership skills and also provide opportunities for learners to practise their leadership skills. The students therefore behave responsibly and are responsible for their friends.
There are student leaders in various respective levels of leadership including group leaders, class leaders and other capacities. The students are given guidance and counseling on leadership and management skills by the guidance and counseling department to enable them carry out their responsibilities and duties effectively and efficiently.
The student leaders are also given the opportunity to attend leadership workshops and forums with students from other schools. Besides, the school administration recognises and awards students who have demonstrated strong leadership skills in the school community.
According to the principal teachers undergo an orientation process to inform them of the mission and, the objectives, the shared aspirations and goals of the school, the parents and learners and the school programmes in order to enable them adapt to the school system.
This is done by the school principle, the respective department and all the teachers. The school has room teachers who are responsible for all the activities and needs of each mixed-age groups.
The learners’ workshops are organized through a coordination of the respective subject teacher, the class teacher, the room teachers, the department involved and the school administration headed by the principal. Learners are also involved in deciding the learning activities of the workshops.
These workshops are part of mainstream learning activities and therefore do not involve other schools. According to the principal, the teaching and learning structure of the school is unique since it involves the mixed-age groups and therefore can not be integrated with the teaching in the neighbouring schools.
School development and school policy
According to the school’s principal, the school is more concerned with providing education that meets individual learner’s needs and aspirations. Therefore it is in the process of completing the reference time table to enhance differentiation. According to the principal, the school is also developing a software that would enable it disseminate information to learners.
The software would enable the school link its website to the National Library Consortium which is owned by the state. The school also encourages and supports teachers’ innovative programmes for developing better teaching strategies and instructional contents and materials.
The school policy, according to Vígþórsdóttir, is to ensure that each learner is exposed to learning experiences which best meets his or her objectives and aspirations so as to enable the learner complete his or her education as a happy, independent and strong individual. To ensure that this is achieved, the teachers evaluate the outcome of the learners and the feedback from both the parents and the learners.
The teacher and the learner sign a study contract and both set the objectives for the outcome of the study contract. They decide the learning content and the instructional materials. At the end of the programme, the teacher and learner evaluate achievement of the objectives. Evaluation of learners involves the teachers and the parents and discusses the progress of each student.
Theories of Learning Explaining the Education System at Nordlingaskoli
The school uses the cognitive theories of learning and in particular, the social cognitive learning theory as well as the multiple intelligence theory of learning. Multiple intelligence theory of learning argues that learners should be allowed to exploit their strengths.
It states that each learner has multiple intelligence levels therefore the learner should be exposed to various learning experiences in order to help the learner develop all the learning forms (Gardner, 2005). Learners are always curious to acquire knowledge by themselves and therefore should be given the opportunity to do so.
What the government is doing
According to the European Commission, (2009), the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture provides the national curriculum guidelines for all schools. The curriculum provides pedagogical guidelines, instructional organisations and policies to be applied in schools. It also stipulates the guidelines for the organisation of school activities as well as the objectives for the respective levels of education.
The ministry also develops and distributes instructional materials to compulsory schools for free through its National Centre for Educational Materials and is coordinated by the District School Boards. The District School Boards are also responsible for monitoring the implementation of schooling as well as instruction in the respective municipalities.
They also monitor the school curriculum structure and make recommendations to the local government or the principal of the school on improvements that could be made to improve the school’s operations (European Commission. 2009).
The government also recognises that the country’s demography is diverse and therefore has included many foreign languages in the curriculum as well as employs teachers from diverse backgrounds. According to Ministry of Education, Science and Culture (2004), the government has increased the parents’ participation by transferring the management to the municipals.
The national curriculum guidelines require that the schools should enable learners acquire Christian and charity values as well as tolerance to each culture and towards each other. It requires that the education offered should enable learners who are Icelanders acquire cultural consciousness and to respect other nations cultures.
Given that the parents are given the opportunity to participate forums for discussing their children’s schooling, it is important that those heading each parents association to consider ways in which their objectives could better help each school achieve its objectives. It is also important for schools to help learners develop a common organizational culture that respects all cultures.
Finally, the curriculum gives the learners more authority to control their learning process. Teachers and parents should be enabled to have more control over the learning process particularly for the younger ages in the primary level of education.
The study discusses the Icelandic education system and in particular the compulsory education. Provision of compulsory education is the responsibility of municipalities while upper secondary and higher education is provided by the state. The municipality monitors the progress of the education system in accordance with the national education guidelines.
However, the challenge for provision of education to the Icelandic community is providing an education system which meets the needs of the multicultural society. The study discusses the measures that have been taken by Nordlingaskoli to ensure provision of education that meets the needs of all learners including their objectives and aspirations while at the same time respecting and shaping their cultural backgrounds.
The study discusses theories of learning that form the basis of the Icelandic curriculum which are cognitive and social cognitive theories of learning as well as multiple intelligence theory of learning. The major characteristic of the school is that it uses mixed-age groups in providing learning experiences for learners.
Education in Iceland has succeeded in providing multicultural education to its citizens. This programme should be recommended for many nations in Europe and other parts of the world still struggling to provide multicultural education to their citizens. However, in adopting this system the particular nation should consider its population.
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