Vocabulary of Icelandic Youth on the Decline

iceland education

According to the Head of Assessments at the Directorate of Education, declining reading interest and English language dominance have contributed to the decade-long drop in Icelandic youths’ reading comprehension. Students prioritise other activities than reading in their free time.

Free time spent doing something else

Reading comprehension among the Icelandic youth has been on the decline for a decade. In an interview with Mbl.is today, Freyja Birgisdóttir, Head of Assessments at the Directorate of Education, was asked to comment on this trend.

“Reading interest among young people today is not particularly high. It’s just a competition for time, and most choose to do something else in their free time instead of reading. Moreover, as repeatedly pointed out, including by [professor] Eiríkur Rögnvaldsson, Iceland is a very small language community and Icelandic is in decline,” Freyja observed, noting that the OECD´s Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA), which assesses the proficiency of 15-year olds in key academic areas, was really the only tool to compare the aptitude of Icelandic students to their neighbours.

Freyja also discussed the impact of English on the Icelandic language environment. “The vocabulary of Icelandic students is simply declining because they read less. This is compounded by the prevalence of English in their environment. So, if we compare ourselves to other countries with larger language communities, their mother tongue is much more present in their environment than in ours. That’s just a fact. Therefore, we need to be ten times more conscious in protecting Icelandic, and I think that’s also part of it. Proficiency in Icelandic is not as good as it used to be.”

Freyja told Mbl.is that work was underway on a new reading comprehension test for students from the 3rd to 10th grade. “It’s intended to be a kind of formative assessment, meaning the test aims to map the students’ status more precisely, identifying their strengths and weaknesses.”

There are hopes to implement the test, in stages, this spring.

Standardised Tests Plagued by Technical Difficulties

keyboard computer typing

Technical difficulties affected standardised Icelandic testing in several schools in the country today. While the ninth-grade examinations went well for some, others could not log in to the online system or lost connection during the examination. At least ten schools have decided to postpone the testing as a result. This is the second time technical difficulties plague the test: in 2018, the system crashed entirely and the tests also had to be postponed.

“It is inadmissible that students who take exams at this age cannot complete them without hurdles,” Arnór Guðmundsson, Director of the Directorate of Education, told Fréttablaðið. Arnór says the problem lies with the US-based examination software, the same one used for the 2018 tests, which also faced technical difficulties. He adds that the incident is particularly frustrating as tests had been conducted to ensure the system could handle many more students at once than were expected to take the test.

The purpose of standardised examinations is to provide parents, teachers, and students with information about each students’ academic status. Despite today’s technical difficulties, the Directorate of Education says it will continue to work to provide students with feedback through standardised assessment.