Updated Sex Ed Curriculum for Secondary Students in Iceland

Iceland’s Association for Sexual Health has published new educational material for sex ed in secondary schools. The material takes into account the major societal changes that have taken place in recent years, the association’s chairperson told RÚV.

The material consists of a new teaching manual for secondary school teachers, titled Youth Sexual Health and Wellbeing. The manual is a product of collaboration with a broad range of organisations, including the National Queer Association of Iceland (Samtökin ’78) the feminist disability movement Tabú and Trans Iceland. Secondary school teachers were also involved in the development of the material.

Self-esteem and sexual health

The manual’s 13 lessons cover a wide range of topics, from self-esteem and body image to emotions, porn literacy, healthy relationships, STI prevention, and pregnancy. The lesson plans use interactive teaching methods that actively involve students in the learning process.

Updated teaching material

Sóley Bender, the chairperson of Iceland’s Association for Sexual Health, told RÚV she hopes some teachers will start testing the material this autumn. The sex ed curriculum was last updated in 2011 and there have been many societal changes since that time.

“We know for example that just the Metoo movement and the whole discussion that took place after it regarding abuse. That is something that needs to be discussed.” Sóley adds that it is also necessary to take diversity into account in the curriculum and integrate it into teaching materials.

The manual is publicly available on the association’s website.

15% of 10th-Grade Girls Have Been Raped By Peers, Study Finds

Farsældarþing

A new study presented at the Children’s Prosperity Congress reveals alarming rates of sexual harassment and violence among Icelandic youth, with one in six tenth-grade girls stating that they had been raped by a peer and the majority of victims not reporting it, RÚV reports. Almost 60% of teenage girls report having encountered sexual harassment online.

Voices of the youth “extremely important”

Professionals, government officials, children, and relatives convened at the Harpa Music and Conference Hall yesterday for the Children’s Prosperity Congress (i.e. Farsældarþing).

Ásmundur Einar Daðason, Minister of Education and Children, told RÚV that parliament played an important role in implementing laws contributing to the prosperity of children. “It’s significant that experts involved in children’s issues from various sectors are convening here. We’re not just discussing the current state of affairs, but also identifying the key challenges, scrutinising data, and setting policies. This helps us decide, as a society, where to focus our efforts in the upcoming seasons,” Ásmundur Einar observed.

Ásmundur Einar emphasised the crucial role of children’s input in shaping the service. “Their voices are extremely important and should be included in every discussion and decision-making process.”

Important to articulate the concerns of the youth

Hanna Valdís Hólmarsdóttir, a 15-year-old participant, remarked that she was struck by the extent to which their voices, as young people, were heard. “It’s awesome.”

Sixteen-year-old Ernir Daði Arnberg Sigurðsson concurred, saying that it felt crucial to articulate the sentiments and concerns of the younger generation. “Society faces numerous pressing issues, and it’s important that professionals hear our perspective so they can effectively address them.”

Fifteen-year-old Emilía Karen Gunnthórsdóttir hoped that the congress would prove successful. “I have both hopes and confidence that this congress will yield successful results,” she stated.

Striking statistics on violence

During the congress, findings from the Icelandic youth study (i.e. Íslensku æskulýðsrannsóknarinnar), conducted among primary school students this past spring, were disclosed. Ragný Þóra Guðjohnsen, who managed the study, highlighted several positive outcomes from the children’s responses. “A significant majority of children feel content in their school environment and exhibit increased social awareness,” Ragný noted.

There are, however, pressing concerns, as well. For instance, between 30-44% of children report feeling sadness, and as many as 56% experience anxiety. “Here, we see a marked gender discrepancy, indicating that particular attention must be paid to girls,” Ragný added.

Shockingly, 11% of children have been exposed to domestic violence, and an alarming 58% of teenage girls have encountered sexual harassment online. “A disturbingly large segment of children have experienced sexual abuse or domestic violence,” Ragný Þóra observed. “We’re witnessing a rise in violence against children, with boys requiring particular attention.”

Other statistics are equally alarming: 15% of 10th-grade teenage girls have been raped by peers, and 17% have suffered sexual abuse from an adult. A majority of abuse victims have not disclosed their experiences to anyone.

Violence is rampant

“Violence is rampant today,” 15-year-old Hanna Valdís told RÚV yesterday. “It’s disheartening to see how normalised it has become for people my age to engage in physical fights and even suffer from stabbings or severe abuse.”

Emilía Karen emphasised the importance of accessible support for struggling teens. “Everyone needs someone to talk to when grappling with anxiety or depression. Greater societal support is imperative.”

Perpetrators encouraged to seek help

Speaking to RÚV yesterday, Guðbjörg S. Bergsdóttir of the Data Science and Information Department of the National Police Commissioner pointed out that violence can be reported via the website 112 or by contacting a trusted adult.

The office has recently launched an initiative targeting perpetrators, or individuals pursuing inappropriate contact with children. Help can be sought at the website taktuskrefid.is, which offers a self-assessment for those concerned about engaging in harmful online behaviour.

What is Iceland’s high school graduation culture like?

Dimmisjón - MR

For students graduating from upper secondary school (menntaskóli), Iceland’s closest equivalent to US high schools, celebrations begin on the last day of classes, when students on the verge of graduation celebrate their dimmisjón (also spelled dimmition or dimission, from the latin dimissio). Dimmisjón traditions differ between schools, but celebrations usually last all day and can include breakfast with teachers, school dinners, and house parties. Most notably, classes or friend groups decide on a group costume, and spend the afternoon cavorting down Laugavegur street dressed as animals, objects, or movie characters. Though Iceland’s legal drinking age is 20, it is rumoured that dimmisjón celebrations involve a few glasses of alcohol.

During the graduation ceremony, graduating students put the costumes away. There’s not a robe in sight but most students wear student caps. These are black caps with a black band and peak, decorated with a silver star. During graduation, menntaskóli students wear the cap covered in a white crown. One year after graduating, graduates remove the white cover and many wear their black cap to subsequent graduation celebrations.

Different versions of the student cap have been introduced next to the traditionally white-coloured crown. Students graduating from vocational education specialising in, for instance, trades, agriculture, or the fishing industry, use red and green instead.

Fewer Icelandic Teens Drinking and Having Sex

teenagers nauthólsvík summer sun

In 2006, 36% of Icelandic girls in the 10th grade stated that they had had intercourse, and 29% of boys of the same age. Those figures have now fallen to 24% among girls and 27% among boys, Fréttablaðið reports. Less than one in five 15-year-old boys in Iceland stated they used a condom the last time they had intercourse.

The data comes from an international survey called Health Behaviour in School-aged Children, which has been carried out in Iceland since 2006. The survey’s fundings indicate that one-fourth of 15-year-old boys and one-sixth of 15-year-old girls have had intercourse. Iceland’s results show that one-third fewer girls report having had sex than in 2006, and slightly fewer boys.

Decreased alcohol consumption likely a factor

“Sexual activity is a natural accompaniment of puberty that adolescents go through. The first steps can, however, be complicated and if they are taken before the individual is ready, the consequences can be negative,” explains University of Iceland Professor Ársæll Arnarsson, who is a director of Icelandic youth research. He conjectures that less alcohol consumption among teenagers could be one reason they are having less sex.

The COVID pandemic is certainly not the reason, Ársæll says, as “this development began before it appeared. Decreased alcohol consumption is likely a big factor. Drinking among Icelandic teenagers has decreased sharply in recent decades and the same can be said of other countries to which we compare ourselves, though the development there has not been as decisive as here in Iceland.”

Condom use far lower than international average

Condom use among youth varies significantly between countries, the survey results show. In Europe and North America, 61% of sexually active youth used a condom the last time they had intercourse. While the proportion in Malta was 52%, it was just 8% in Denmark. Just 18% of 15-year-old boys in Iceland stated that they used a condom the last time they had intercourse, which Ársæll calls disappointing. “This of course manifests in higher rates of sexually transmitted infections here in Iceland. The condom is, in addition to being a contraceptive, very good protection against that type of infection.”

Sex Ed to Be Reviewed By Experts

Reykjavík school

The Icelandic government has appointed a task force of 13 experts to review the country’s sexual education curriculum. The group will turn in a timeline of suggested measures and their projected cost by the end of February and complete its review in full by May 2021. The measures are meant to improve sexual education and violence prevention education in primary and secondary schools.

As part of its work, the expert panel will carry out a survey on sex education in order to collect impressions from teachers, school administrators, and students. The panel will then decide whether changes need to be implemented to the sexual education curriculum, and also teacher training, the role of specialised staff such as school nurses and counsellors, in order to improve the quality of education. The recent parliamentary resolutions on prevention of sexual and gender-based violence and harassment among children and youth will be a source of reference for the panel’s work.

The task force is chaired by activist and lecturer Sólborg Guðbrandsdóttir, who has been working to raise awareness of online harassment and gender-based harassment since 2016, primarily through her Instagram account Fávitar (Idiots). Sólborg recently published a book of the same name, featuring real sexual health and relationship questions she has received from Icelandic youth and her answers to them. The book reached seventh place on Iceland’s bestseller list in November.

Costumed Teens Run Wild in Reykjavík

Dimmisjón - MR

Tourists strolling through downtown Reykjavík today may be surprised to come upon groups of costumed teenagers in high spirits, cavorting about the streets. The reason is a decades-old tradition called dimmisjón (sometimes spelled dimmition or dimission), a celebration that senior students across the country take part in around one month before their graduation. Due to shortening the school program from four years to three, this year there are two classes graduating simultaneously, which means there have never been more  costume-clad youngsters wandering around town.

In Iceland, after completing compulsory education at the age of 16, the overwhelming majority of students attend a non-compulsory “framhaldsskóli,” a sort of junior college, between the ages of 16 and 19. Completing a junior college exam is a requirement for university admission in Iceland. Junior colleges usually celebrate dimmisjón in April, about one month before the senior class official graduates.

[media-credit name=”Golli.” align=”alignnone” width=”1024″]Dimmisjón - MR[/media-credit]

Though dimmisjón traditions vary from school to school, celebrations tend to last all day. Events can include an early breakfast with teachers, and end in a fancy school dinner, or privately-organised house parties. Classes or friend groups usually decide on a costume the whole group will wear, and in Reykjavík, they spend the afternoon strolling down Laugavegur as animals, objects, or movie characters. Some groups ask passers-by for photos or while others may sing or dance in celebration. Though Iceland’s legal drinking age is 20, it is rumoured that dimmisjón celebrations occasionally involve a drop or two of alcohol.

[media-credit name=”Golli.” align=”alignnone” width=”1024″]Dimmisjón - MR[/media-credit]

Environment Minister Meets With Climate Strike Organisers

Climate Strike Iceland

Environment Minister Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson met with organisers of the weekly climate strike last week, RÚV reports. The ongoing strike, organised by the National Union for Icelandic Students (LÍS) and the Icelandic Upper Secondary Student Union (SÍF), is meant to urge governmental action on climate issues. According to a press release from LÍS, last week’s protest drew over 200 attendees, including elementary and secondary school students, university students, and the general public.

At the meeting, the Minister and strike organisers went over the protesters’ demands, which are first and foremost immediate and more ambitious measures to fight climate change and increased budget allocation to address the issue. The Minister and organisers agreed that the government cannot solve the issue alone. The organisers, however, emphasised that the government must take the lead, as it holds legislative power.

Strike representatives have also requested to meet with Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson. While Katrín has invited the group to meet with her on March 13, Bjarni Benediktsson has yet to answer the request.

The strike is inspired by Greta Thunberg whose school strikes for climate in Sweden have garnered widespread attention and led to youth protests in Belgium, Britain, the United States, Australia, and Germany. Iceland’s third weekly climate strike will be held tomorrow in Austurvöllur square between 12.00 and 1.00pm.

Overdose Deaths Increase from 2017

Thirty-seven people have died from drug overdoses in Iceland so far this year, RÚV reports. The number has already surpassed last year’s total of 34. Many more youths are currently hospitalised for drug addiction than six years ago.

The death of young people due to drug overdoses was the topic of discussion at an open meeting held yesterday by Náum áttum, a youth addiction prevention and education group. Of the 37 individuals who have died of drug overdoses this year, ten are under 30 years old.

Last year just under 1,100 people were admitted to hospital in Iceland due to drug poisoning. Compared to 2012, the numbers have decreased in older age groups but increased among young people, including a 40% increase in those in their early twenties. While older Icelanders tend to overdose with a combination of antidepressant medication and alcohol, in cases of younger individuals opioids and illegal drugs are a more common combination.

Ólafur B. Einarsson, project manager at the Directorate of Health, says young people are not being prescribed the drugs they overdose on, “they are getting these drugs in other ways.” Patients in other Nordic countries, however, receive far fewer prescriptions for habit-forming medication, Ólafur adds. “That’s the main difference between Iceland and its neighbouring countries.”

Sexual Harassment Bill Forthcoming

Lilja Alfreðsdóttir is one of the people nominated for Person of the Year.

Minister of Education and Culture Lilja Alfreðsdóttir plans to introduce a bill on measures against sexual harassment in sports and youth groups this autumn, RÚV reports. A task force appointed by the Minister in response to the #metoo declaration of Icelandic women in sports presented their suggestions regarding the matter yesterday.

Last winter, many stories of sexual harassment and violence in sports and youth organisations came to light. “It happens to me when I am 16 years old that I’m raped by a handball player on the men’s national team at the time,” Hafdís Inga Hinriksdóttir recounted in a television interview in January.

The task force recommendations include banning the hiring of those with previous convictions for sexual assault, as well as ensuring all staff in sports and youth clubs have a basic knowledge of how to respond when sexual assault cases arise. The recommendations also suggest providing state and municipal funding to support gender equality issues in youth organisations and sports clubs.

“Some of these suggestions have already been implemented in collaboration with UMFÍ (The Youth Group Association of Iceland) and ÍSÍ (The National Olympic and Sports Association of Iceland),” the Minister stated.

“This of course just raises awareness. It means that it’s possible to deal with such matters in a professional and organized manner. And though this is often very difficult and sensitive, it’s possible to deal with, and these suggestions really do,” Lilja stated.

“You Don’t Have to Be a Genius to Be in a Band”

Ateria band winner of Músíktilraunir 2018

Composer Béla Bartók once famously said, “Competitions are for horses, not artists.” The Iceland Music Experiments (IME) have proven him wrong many times over. A yearly competition for up-and-coming Icelandic musicians, IME have since 1982 been a stepping stone to success for bands such as Mammút, Agent Fresco, and Of Monsters and Men. This year’s winning band, Ateria, says horsing around together is key to making good music.

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