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icelandic language learning
Photo: Golli.

One in Four Preschool Children Has Foreign Background

Of the nearly 20,000 children attending preschools in Iceland, 26% have a foreign background. This includes children who were born outside of Iceland but also children born in Iceland who have one or two parents that were born abroad. The data, released by Statistics Iceland today, also shows vastly different rates of preschool attendance between regions.

In December 2022, the number of children attending preschools in Iceland had increased by 3.3.% (635 children) from the previous year. A total of 11% were born in Iceland but had one parent born abroad, 9% were born in Iceland and had both parents born abroad, while over 3% were immigrants and over 3% had a foreign background by some other definition. A total of 73.4% of preschool students had no foreign background.

children-in-pre-primary-schools-by-background-2022-Iceland

Record percentages with foreign mother tongue and foreign citizenship

The data shows that 16.8% of all preschool children had a foreign mother tongue, more than ever before. As in recent years, Polish was the most common of the foreign mother tongues, with 1,063 children speaking Polish. The second most common mother tongue was English (356 children) followed by Spanish (166 children). The greatest increase was in the number of children speaking Ukrainian, from 16 to 58. The number of children with foreign citizenship has increased to 9.9%, more than ever before. The largest increase was in the number of children from Asia and South America.

Only 19% of one-year-olds attend preschool in southwest region

The proportion of 1- to 5-year-old children attending preschools decreased by one percentage point from the previous year, from 88% to 87%, as the number of children in preschools did not increase at the same rate as the number of children in that age group in the country. When one-year-olds are considered, attendance varies greatly between regions. While overall, 54% of one-year-olds attended preschools in December 2022, in the east that figure was 82% and it was 74% in the Westfjords. The proportion was by far the lowest in the Southwest region, with just 19% of one-year-olds attending preschool. Incidentally, the southwest region has a higher rate of foreign residents than most other regions.

The OECD Economic Survey of Iceland released earlier this month recommended Iceland’s policy focus on helping migrants integrate, including increasing support for students with immigrant backgrounds and more teacher training in multicultural education. The survey pointed out that immigration has brought significant economic benefits to Iceland with an influx of young people with high participation rates in the labour market.

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