Initiative to Regulate School Phone Usage Announced

Smartphone

Iceland’s Minister of Education and Children has announced a nationwide initiative to create guidelines for smartphone usage in primary schools. The move comes in response to new research highlighting both the widespread ownership of mobile devices among Icelandic children and the growing concerns about the technology’s potential negative impact on their well-being and academic performance.

A reference point for schools

Ásmundur Einar Daðason, Iceland’s Minister of Education and Children has announced an initiative to formulate guidelines for smartphone usage in primary schools nationwide. The guidelines will be the result of consultations involving parents and children, local authorities, school administrators, teachers, and other key stakeholders. The forthcoming guidelines are intended to serve as a reference point for schools as they develop their own policies on smartphone usage. A key focus of the initiative is to ensure robust educational programmes aimed at mitigating any adverse effects associated with mobile phone usage in educational settings.

Recent research conducted by the Media Commission and the Institute of Education at the University of Iceland reveals a near-ubiquitous presence of mobile phones among Icelandic children. Ninety-five percent of students in grades 4-7 own a mobile device and 98% in grades 8-10. The percentage of students utilising the internet for academic purposes on a daily basis is considerably lower in younger grades, however, but increases gradually from 7% in grades 4-7 to 38% in grades 8-10, and reaching 74% in secondary schools.

An urgent need to address the issue

While information and communication technology (ICT) plays an important role in the educational experience, there is an urgent need to address its potential downsides for children and young adults within the Icelandic educational system. Emerging research indicates a significant surge in screen time, especially among children, adversely affecting their sleep, mental, and physical well-being. Studies also suggest that implementing restrictions on mobile phone usage within schools can enhance academic performance, particularly for students who are academically challenged.

“As technology continues to advance, it’s evident that it carries both merits and drawbacks,” Minister Ásmundur Einar Daðason is quoted as saying. “In Iceland, where screen usage is already high and on the rise, opinions on the issue are diverse, and existing school policies are inconsistent or sometimes non-existent. Our objective is to establish well-defined criteria for primary schools and bolster educational programmes to address this. We aim to navigate these technological advancements in a manner that prioritises the well-being and academic success of our children.”

Further Strike Action by BSRB Members Begins Today

reykjavík leikskóli preschool

Further strike action by members of BSRB began today. A week has passed since preschool and primary school workers went on strike in Kópavogur, Mosfellsbær, Garðabær, and Seltjarnarnes. Today, strikes will extend to the same workers in Hveragerði, Árborg, and the Westman Islands, including primary school employees in Hafnarfjörður.

Further strike action beginning today

On May 15, BSRB – Iceland’s largest federation of public sector unions, comprising 19 labour unions with some 23,000 members – began strike action as part of its ongoing negotiations with the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SNS). Some 1,000 workers – including staff in preschools in Kópavogur, Garðabær, and Mosfellsbær, and primary schools in Kópavogur, Seltjarnarnes, and Mosfellsbær – went on strike.

Last Friday, BSRB members in 29 municipalities approved strike action in a vote that ended at noon. Votes were cast in each municipality separately, but the measures were approved by an overwhelming majority in all of them, according to information from BSRB.

Primary school workers in Hafnarfjörður and Ölfus will begin strikes today. On Tuesday and Wednesday, four other municipalities will join in the strike action. On Thursday, only primary school workers in Seltjarnarnes will be on strike (preschool staff in five municipalities will also be on strike). As noted by Mbl.is, port workers in Ölfus will also go on strike today.

The strike actions will have some effect in the coming weeks, except in Reykjavík. As noted by RÚV, Reykjavík is the only municipality in the country that negotiates directly with BSRB, and a collective agreement was signed last month. Other local authorities normally delegate their bargaining authority to the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SNS).

Same wages for the same jobs

Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir, chairperson of BSRB, has emphasised the federation’s demand that the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities pay the same wages to BSRB union members as others in similar jobs. BSRB is demanding retroactive wage increases from January 1, when the last collective agreement was still in effect.

A schedule of BSRB’s strike action over the coming days and weeks may be viewed here:

BSRB

Children Over 35% of Those Currently Quarantined in Iceland

Borgarfjörður eystri

Over one third of those currently in quarantine in Iceland are under 18, RÚV reports. Over 500 children are in quarantine in the country due to possible SARS-CoV-2 exposure while 49 are in isolation due to an active COVID-19 infection. COVID-19 infections among staff or students have led to disruptions in programming in five primary schools in the capital area and led to one school closure since the academic year began in late August.

“We are concerned about the number of young people and especially primary school children who are now quarantined,” stated Chief Superintendent and Director of Iceland’s Civil Protection Department Víðir Reynisson. “We know it’s not easy to be in quarantine, I’ve tried it myself. But we also know they are doing a good job and are following instructions.”

Víðir encouraged children who were at home to use their time to read. “I challenge you to set the goal of reading one book in quarantine that is not related to school. It doesn’t mater if you’re read it before, just choose a good book and read it.”

Teenagers Account for Most Infections Among Children

Most of the children with active COVID-19 infections in Iceland are in their teens. There are currently 22 children between 13-17 who are in isolation due to infection, while there are 16 between the ages of 6-12 and 11 children aged five or younger. Children that are put into quarantine must have an adult in quarantine with them. In such situations, parents or guardians have the right to financial support through the Directorate of Labour, while parents who are caring for children with active infections are required to use their mandated sick days.

Authorities Held Briefing For Children

Víðir and Iceland’s Director of Health Alma Möller, who have both regularly held COVID-19 briefings since Iceland’s first COVID-19 case last winter, held a special briefing for children giving them an opportunity to ask questions about the pandemic.

Teachers’ Work Not Confined to the Classroom, Union Says

Primary school teachers are seeking increased flexibility as part of their new wage contract, RÚV reports. Wage negotiations are underway, but teachers have been without a contract for over a year and are growing impatient.

Bargaining committees for primary school teachers and the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities are now meeting on a regular basis with the goal of signing a new contract by October 1. The teachers’ collective bargaining agreement ended in July of last year, at which point they agreed to an extension of the negotiation period. Þorgerður Laufey Diðriksdóttir, chair of the Association of Primary School Teachers, says that teachers are demanding a pay raise in accordance with the Living Wage Agreement. She also says that it’s time for municipalities to recognize that the work of a teacher is not confined to the classroom.

“It’s become apparent during COVID that we’re doing a job that can be both onsite and remote. It’s not just preparation that might take place offsite, but as we’ve clearly seen, teaching may also be done remotely.”

Þorgerður says that for years, the teachers’ contract has been based on the idea that they should be doing most of their work while at school. “This hasn’t led to better education—on the contrary, it’s caused grief and discomfort for a lot of people, having experienced this inflexibility.”

As such, Þorgerður says that an increased flexibility, that is to say, a broader understanding of what teachers do—and where they do it—is a requirement as they continue with negotiations.

City Turns Down Union Offer, Strike Continues

City of Reykjavík strike

The City of Reykjavík turned down Efling Union’s third contract proposal yesterday, RÚV reports. No further meetings have been scheduled between the parties. Efling members employed by the city continue a general strike, affecting preschools, primary schools, welfare services, and waste management.

Third union offer rejected

A meeting between Efling and city representatives yesterday afternoon ended without a resolution. In a notice published yesterday, Efling expressed disappointment that their third offer had been rejected by the city. The offer proposed paying staff a work-related premium “in recognition of professional responsibility, work load, work-related costs, and other factors.” The premium would vary based on occupation and workplace and would not be included in the base salary for calculating overtime.

A statement from Efling’s negotiation committee harshly criticising the city was published alongside the notice. “We condemn your hypocrisy, silence, and lack of responsibility,” it stated. “Our demands are just. Our fighting spirit is strong. Striking is our right.”

Mayor defends city’s offer

In a radio interview this morning, Efling Director Viðar Þorsteinsson accused Reykjavík Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson of attempting to derail the discussion using “mathematical gymnastics.” The Mayor defended the city’s offer, saying it entails a substantial “correction” of low wages, as Efling is calling for. “People have to understand what is being offered, but instead we continually hear big words, that suggest that no wage hikes were being offered,” the mayor stated.

Efling Union Offers City New Contract Proposal

Efling - Strike - Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir

Efling Union presented a new contract proposal to the City of Reykjavík this morning, RÚV reports. Another meeting between the parties is scheduled for tomorrow. Around 1,850 Efling members who work for the city began a general strike yesterday, affecting Reykjavík’s preschools, primary schools, welfare services, and waste management.

Union and city representatives met this morning with the state mediator for around one and a half hours, their first meeting since February 7. Efling chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir declined to comment on the details of the union’s new offer for the time being. Another meeting is scheduled between the parties tomorrow.

Sólveig Anna told reporters the general strike will continue. There are ISK 3 billion ($23.6m/€21.8m) in Efling’s strike fund, which she says is enough to support a long strike.

Icelandic Students Benefit from Mindfulness Teaching

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A program teaching mindfulness in Reykjavík primary schools is having a positive impact on the health of students and teachers, mbl.is reports. Preliminary results of a study done on the initiative show significant changes in mindfulness, stress levels, and empathy. Bryndís Jóna Jónsdóttir, adjunct lecturer at the University of Iceland’s Faculty of Education and Diversity, gave a lecture on the project’s progress at a conference on educational science today.

“We are beginning to hear clearly from the schools how important teaching mindfulness is. Each and every individual is given the means to deal with daily challenges, promote wellbeing and resilience, and there are many advantages to that,” Bryndís remarked. While plenty of research has been done abroad on mindfulness in education, she stressed the importance of conducting local studies, which could learn from practices abroad.

Based on proven methods

In 2017, development began on a holistic introduction of mindfulness into primary schools in collaboration with the Directorate of Health. In 2018, a pilot project was implemented in three schools in the capital area. The project is two-pronged, and consist of a comprehensive implementation of mindfulness across the entire schools from 1st to 10th grade, as well as a research project done specifically with students born in 2005 and 2006. The material and methods used varies based on students’ age and is all based on proven methods.

Increased self-empathy

Preliminary results showed that mindfulness teaching increased self-empathy in pre-teen students. “That is vitally important during these developmental years. These are kids in seventh and ninth grade. These are kids who are going through puberty when they are very critical of themselves. They get the opportunity to reverse that development and find ways to support themselves and treat themselves with kindness when they are faced with difficulties.”