Child care and the school system
Child care and the school system
A fundamental principle of Icelandic education is that everyone should have equal opportunities to acquire an
education, irrespective of sex, economic status, residential location, religion, possible handicaps, and cultural, social or ethnic background. The parliament and the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture are legally and politically responsible for the education system and determine its basic objectives and administrative
framework. There are few private schools in the system and almost all private schools receive public funding.
The school system has recently been decentralized and since 1996 local municipalities manage the schools and are responsible for implementing education laws. The municipalities are therefore responsible for providing access to preschool and compulsory school facilities and also for all financial support of these facilities.
The education system is divided into four levels:
- Pre-School (leikskóli) - for children between the 2 and 6 years of age.
- Compulsory (grunnskóli) - 6-16 years of age.
- Upper-Secondary (framhaldsskóli) - For those that are 16-20 years of age or anyone that has completed compulsory education or has turned 18 years of age.
- Higher Education or University (háskóli) – For those that have completed upper-secondary school and have a "students" degree or the equivalent.
School attendance is compulsory from the age of 6 to 16, i.e. in the autumn of the year in which the child turns 6. Parents are obligated to ensure that their children of compulsory school age are registered and attend school. Pupils are in school for 180 days during the months of August - June. Compulsory education, including textbooks and materials is free of charge. Children living in Iceland that speak a language other than Icelandic have a legal right to special teaching in Icelandic. According to Icelandic law all students with a different mother tongue than Icelandic have the right to two hours a week of special teaching in Icelandic while they are getting a grasp of
the language. In each school the headmaster and the special education teachers see to the organization and the
implementation of the teaching. The special teaching may vary depending on the mother tongue of the student and how different it is to Icelandic.
Children that have another mother tongue than Icelandic may request exemption from Danish. This exemption is considered on an individual basis and those requesting exemption must prove that it is in the best interest of the child. This exemption is never given to younger children. With this exemption it usually follows that the child is also exempt from taking the National Standardized Examinations in Danish. This decision should be taken very seriously as not having credits in Danish may have an effect on what area of study students may pursue
in college. For further information contact your child's head master, or the Ministry of Education.To register your child in school you may go to the school that is nearest you. If you are not sure which school that is, contact
your local school administration office. The Reykjavik Education service Centre, has registration forms available in 14 different languages.
When you register your child for school you should have the following information:
- Name and ID number of the child
- Previous school records
- Proof of a medical examination
- Proof of having received all necessary vaccinations
The transition into the Icelandic school system may take time, and may be difficult. It is important to remember that children may experience culture shock just as adults do. Parents are the best advocates for their children, so do not be afraid to ask questions or express concerns. It is a good idea to be in regular contact with your child's teacher and headmaster. If communication is restricted because of language, ask that an interpreter be provided. The schools are not legally required to provide interpreters although they often do so if needed. The Reykjavik education service center has recently published an information booklet about the school system in 14 languages.
Education at the upper-secondary level is free but students pay a registration fee and the cost of textbooks. Students in vocational education also pay a materials fee. Education at this level is not compulsory but all students that have completed this level of education have the right to enter university. The school year is 9 months long and is divided into autumn and spring terms and traditionally takes 4 years to complete. Some schools offer summer school programs, evening programs and adult programs. Recently there was a change in the system and there are no longer certain schools assigned to certain neighborhoods, so students are free to apply to whatever school they choose. It is possible that an applicant does not get accepted for their first choice, so it is a good idea to have a few choices in mind. When choosing a school, shop around, ask questions, visit the school and take a tour, and then decide which one best suits your needs. Note: At the time of writing this only one school in the Reykjavik area Iðnskóli offers special programs for new immigrants. Schools in the Reykjavík area do not have dormitories while schools in the countryside offer room and board for enrolled students. There are about 40 of these schools in Iceland.
There are no loans available for students in upper-secondary school. There are however tax discounts available to parents. This discount is not automatic like child benefits. Parents must fill out the appropriate information on their tax forms. The amount of the discount is affected by any income that the student claims. For more information contact the Tax Office. Parents are obligated by law to financially see to their children until they are 18 years of age. Students between the ages of 18-20 years old that are studying or learning a trade may apply for an extension of support. The student makes this request at The State Social Security Institute.
The Icelandic higher education system dates back to 1911 with the foundation of the University of Iceland. In the past decade there has been an increase in the amount of institutions of higher learning. At the time of writing this there are 8 universities. Except for 3 of them they are all run by the state. Universities differ to the extent to which they engage in research and the number of programs they offer. While universities are free to set their own admissions criteria, in most circumstances a matriculation exam or its equivalent is necessary. Registration of 1st year students takes place from late May until early June. The application for foreign students, other than Nordic citizens is the 15th of March. Some of the universities also admit new students in the
spring. There are no tuition fees at state-run universities, only registration fees. Students must purchase their own books and materials. Students attending institutes of higher learning may be eligible for a loan from the Icelandic Student Loan Fund. The amount of the loan depends on the income of the student and if they have children. These loans must be paid back 2 years after graduation or discontinuing your studies. The Ministry of Education grants scholarships once a year to foreign students to pursue studies in Icelandic language and literature at the University of Iceland.Contact the ministry for more information.
The following individuals are eligible for a student loan:
- Citizens of the EU and EEA-EFTA countries, who have worked at least 1 year in Iceland.
- Students from Nordic countries who are permanent residents of Iceland, are registered students, and are not already receiving help from their own country.
- Students that are from countries that have a reciprocal agreement with Iceland.
- Foreign immigrants, legally residing in Iceland for 1 year that have worked here, or within the EU for at least 5years are eligible for a loan providing the course of study they are applying for is work related. The same applies for spouses and children under 21 years of age.
Universities and Colleges in Iceland
The University of Iceland (Háskóli Íslands)
Suðurgötu, IS-101 Reykjavik
tel: (+354) 525-4000 fax: (+354) 525-5850
The University of Akureyri (Háskólinn á Akureyri)
v/Norðurslóð, IS-600 Akureyri
tel: (+354) 463-0900 fax: (+354) 463-0999
Iceland University of Education (Kennaraháskóli Íslands)
Stakkahlíð, IS-105 Reykjavík
tel: (+354) 563-3800 fax: (+354) 563-3833
The Agricultural University (Landbúnaðarháskólinn á
tel: (+354) 433-7000 fax: (+354) 433-7001
Iceland Academy of the Arts (Listaháskóli Íslands)
Skipholt 1, IS-105 Reykjavik
tel: (+354) 552-4000 fax: (+354) 562-3629
Hólar University College (Hólaskóli)
Hólar Hjaltadal, IS-551 Sauðárkrókur
tel: (+354) 455-6300 fax: (+354) 455-6301
Bifröst School of Business (Viðskiptaháskólinn Bifröst)
tel: (+354) 433 000 fax: (+354) 433 0001
Reykjavik University (Háskólinn í Reykjavík)
Ofanleiti 2, IS-103 Reykjavík
tel: (+354) 510-6200 fax: (+354) 510-6201