Initiative to Regulate School Phone Usage Announced


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.”

Wr-App It Up! New Phone Game Encourages Safe Sex Practices

Iceland regularly has some of the highest rates of STI transmission in Europe and in response, the Directorate of Health has gotten creative with its newest public health campaign. Vísir reports that a new smartphone game, Smokkaleikurinn (‘The Condom Game’), is intended to increase Icelanders’ awareness about the dangers of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and improve their safe sex practices.

“Education has gone down and infections have gone up from year to year,” remarked Björn Thorvaldsson, CEO of Gamatic, which produced the game. “So we’re working to counteract this.”

The point of the game is to use condoms (branded with logos for Durex and the Icelandic pharmacy chain Apótekarinn) to catch sperm and viruses. In between sheathings, not-so-fun facts about STIs pop on the screen, as do encouragements for the player to use condoms.

Screenshot, Stöð 2
Screenshot, Stöð 2

Björn says the game even includes a cameo by “a very well-known Icelander” who will “swim onto screen” to talk about the importance of condom use in a fun way. Although Björn did not name the famous guest star, teasers showing a sperm with a high fade haircut and decked out in a sparkly red jacket point to the Icelander in question being none other than gay icon and beloved pop sensation Páll Óskar, who readers may remember from his headlining stints at Reykjavík Pride, among many others. This wouldn’t be the first time Páll has lent his gravitas to a campaign to promote safer sex practices. In 2013, Páll directed and narrated the short film “Fáðu já!” (‘Get a Yes!’) which spoke about the importance of affirmative consent in all sexual encounters. (Watch the video here, with English subtitles.)

Screenshot, Stöð 2

“Simply put, it’s not smart to not use contraception because it’s no joke to get, as an example, chlamydia, which can make women, in some cases, infertile,” concludes Björn. “Or syphilis, if it’s allowed to progress without treatment, can have really serious consequences.”

Smokkaleikurinn will launch next week and will be available in the Apple app store for iPhones and GooglePlay for Android. At time of writing, it is unclear if the game will be available outside of Iceland.

Icelanders Can Download App to Help With Coronavirus Contact Tracing

COVID-19 tracking app Iceland

Icelandic authorities have launched an app that tracks users’ movements in order to help with contract tracking coronavirus cases. The app, called Rakning C-19, is currently only available in the Apple Store, but Android phone users will hopefully not have to wait long. The app is under review for launch in the Google Play store, and authorities are expecting to receive the final approval shortly.

The app is a joint project of Iceland’s Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management and Directorate of Health. It collects data about other phones in the area, making it easier to trace whom an individual was in contact with if they are later diagnosed with coronavirus.

The goal of the app is to speed up coronavirus contact tracing, and authorities have clarified that it will not replace the contact tracing team, which will continue to work with individuals directly when infection comes up.

The app was developed in collaboration with data security experts. The data gathered by the software is only stored locally, and users must grant permission to Icelandic authorities to access it.

Effective contact tracing and quarantine of those who have been at risk of infection have proven to be effective tools in slowing the spread of COVIC-19 in Iceland. Over half of those who have been confirmed with the virus, or 54%, were already in quarantine when their infection was confirmed.

Tracking App May Assist Iceland With Coronavirus Contact Tracing

Icelandic authorities are creating an app to help contact trace coronavirus cases, RÚV reports. Residents of the country would be asked to install the app on their phones, and if they contract coronavirus, the data it collects could be used to help identify others they came into contact with. The app is expected to launch next week.

The app collects data about other phones in the area, making it easier to trace whom an individual was in contact with leading up to their coronavirus diagnosis. The initiative is a joint project of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management and the Directorate of Health.

Víðir Reynisson, Chief Superintendent of the National Police Commissioner’s Office says the goal of the app is to speed up the contact tracing process. It will not replace the contact tracing team, which will continue to speak to those infected and work to map their contact with others around them.

Users control data access

Víðir says the data collected by the app will be in the ownership of the Directorate of Health and the same data protection rules will apply to it as to other databases in the health sector. App users will need to grant permission for the data collection upon downloading the app and then grant separate permission to healthcare authorities to access the data if an infection comes up. The data will be deleted once contact tracing is complete. Similar software has been used in South Korea and Singapore.

Hólmar Örn Finsson, a data protection representative at the Directorate of Health, told Vísir that the public does not have to worry that their data will be misused. “I just want to point out that we have got security experts with us in this. That’s why we based it on this double permission. You agree to download the app yourself. And if we need the data from you, you also agree to share it. Only then is it shared with the Department of Civil Protection’s contact tracing team.” Hólmar explains that the data will only be stored for a short time, likely just a couple of weeks. “No one should be able to access this data any more than any other data on your phone.”

Contact tracing has slowed spread of COVID-19

Effective contact tracing and quarantine of those who have been at risk of infection have proven to be effective tools in slowing the spread of COVIC-19 in Iceland. Nearly half of those who have been confirmed with the virus, or 49%, were already in quarantine when their infection was confirmed.

Save the Children Hosts Phone-Free Sunday

Save the Children Iceland will host its second annual “Phone-Free Sunday” this coming weekend on Sunday, November 4, reports. The initiative encourages participants to set aside their phones from 9 AM to 9 PM in order to facilitate better family interactions and face-to-face communication during that time.

Save the Children Iceland CEO Erna Reynisdóttir reported that the inaugural event was such a success that the organization decided to repeat it this year. “A lot of people said that their kids thought it was great to have a day like this,” she said. “It tells us that we need to be conscious of not letting our phones interfere with our interactions and time spent with our families.”

Interested participants are encouraged to sign up on the Save the Children Iceland website, here. People who register will receive advice on ways to spend a phone-free Sunday. Registered participants will also be eligible for prizes.

Erna says that it’s particularly important for parents to model good phone-free behavior on this day. “To show our kids that we can put down these devices. Teach them that we control the devices, rather than them controlling us. We aren’t banning anything, but generally, there isn’t a great need created by setting your phone aside for a few hours.”