Can you give me information about Iceland’s school system? Are there grade schools, middle schools, and high schools?

Iceland’s educational system is divided into four levels: leikskóli (preschool), grunnskóli (compulsory school), framhaldsskóli (upper secondary school), and háskóli (higher education). The system is comparable to other Nordic education systems but differs from the US model, for example. Preschool is for children aged 1-6. This first level of the education system is non-compulsory. In preschool, children learn through play, acquiring valuable skills they can later use in their school career.

Compulsory school is for all kids aged 6-16 and is the only compulsory level of education in Iceland. The school year lasts nine months and runs from late August until early June. This tier is divided into primary and lower secondary school, and these are often housed in the same school building. In Reykjavík, compulsory schools can have over 1,000 pupils, while rural schools might have as few as ten.

Following lower secondary school, students attend upper secondary school between the ages of 16-19. Everyone who has completed compulsory education has the right to attend upper secondary school, but it is not required. There are entry requirements for different courses, and students who fail to meet the criteria can follow a general programme of study. Especially in Reykjavík, some schools are more popular than others, and the most popular schools turn down hundreds of prospective students every year. Secondary vocational education is also offered after compulsory education. Students can learn a trade or receive vocational training in, for example, agriculture, the fishing industry, or food production.

From age 19, students can attend university. Iceland currently has seven universities, of which the oldest is the University of Iceland, established in 1911. Iceland University of the Arts, the Agricultural University of Iceland, Hólar University, Bifröst University, Reykjavík University, and Akureyri University make up the others.

One Child Left in Grímsey

As of this coming winter, there will only be one child living on the island of Grímsey, RÚV reports. There has been a grade school in continual operation on the island since 1904, but as the resident youth reach middle and/or secondary school-age, they have to move to the main island, usually to the town of Akureyri, and board at schools there. When the coming academic year starts, only one five-year-old boy will still live on Grímsey; all of the island’s other children will be boarding elsewhere for school.

Grímsey is located 40 km [25 mi] off the northern coast of Iceland and actually straddles the Arctic circle. Less than 30 people have registered full-time residence there, although last fall, this number dropped to around 18 people in the off-season, i.e. from August to December. Last year, there were three young children living on the island, all of whom were schooled there. One family with two young children is, however, about to move away.

Unnur Íngólfsdóttir is mother to four children, including the youngest Grímsey resident. Her next youngest will be starting high school in Akureyri in the fall, just as her older two children did before. Unnur told RÚV that it’s doubtful that the kindergarten will operate in the fall, since she doesn’t think that her son will much enjoy being the only child there all day. She’s considering ways that she can improve her son’s situation, with one idea being that she’ll take him to the main island for kindergarten one week a month, which will give him the opportunity to socialize with other children. Although she insists that she’s optimistic by nature and loves living on Grímsey, Unnur says that her family has obviously started to consider its future on the island.

Ingibjörg Ólöf Isaksen, the chair of the Akureyri town council’s education committee, said it will be hard to keep the Grímsey school open for just one pupil. She said that she hoped that the number of children on the island would increase in the coming years, in which case, there would be no difficulty in reopening the school.

Women Make Up 70% of University of Iceland Graduates

Lilja Alfreðsdóttir, the Icelandic Minister of Education, Science, and Culture, looks to restructure the Icelandic school system, RÚV reports. In an interview with radio station Rás 1, Lilja revealed that work is already afoot to stage a long-term plan for education in the country until 2030.

Lilja believes that Icelandic authorities should look to Norway as a guiding light for education reform, as Norwegian authorities have just finished an extensive reboot of their educational system. “I am meeting with the Norwegian minister of education next week to familiarize myself thoroughly with their improvements. Those of us who are formalizing these strategic plans have to take in account the best from other countries.”

There are many challenges ahead, such as the fact that 70% of university graduates from the University of Iceland are women. “One problem we face that differs from the other Nordic countries is the substantial dropout rate at high-school level, where we are witnessing change. We are also experiencing a lot of change at university level. I was at the yearly meeting of the University of Iceland yesterday where it was revealed that 70% of graduates are women.”, Lilja commented.

Lilja’s plans will attempt to tackle the problem of manning teacher positions in the country, as well as taking an extensive look into the Icelandic student loan system. The minister also mentioned the education for those students whose native tongue is not Icelandic. “They have difficulties in our education system and we cannot overlook that. I believe firmly that education is for all, and all children in Iceland”, Lilja stated.

The graduation rates for men in the University of Iceland have gradually declined since the turn of the millennium, according to Vísir. “It’s a worrying state of affairs, that men are enrolling in lower numbers to the university. It’s a trend that needs to be turned, but it will take time”, Jón Atli Benediktsson, the president of the University of Iceland commented in 2017. Nearly all divisions in the University of Iceland feature women in the vast majority, expect for the division of engineering and natural sciences. “It matters that the society has is balanced in terms of gender in the labour market. That there isn’t a gender gap in the labour market in certain fields. That men and women can attend to the same subjects. And that especially applies to academic subjects such as in the university”, Jón Atli stated.

University of Iceland graduation rates

2001 – 41% of graduates were male

2006 – 34% of graduates were male

2017 – 28% of graduates were male