Is The System of Education in Iceland Among the Best?

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Education nowadays is –or should be- one of the main concerns of modern governments. Education will surely build up their future society’s skills and influence moral standards. The System of Education in Iceland resembles most of the Scandinavian countries. It ranks quite high in the global index but falls behind its Nordic neighbors.

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To understand the system of education in Iceland, we should start by explaining its history. Since 1907 it is mandatory for children from 10 to 14 years old to attend school. Although education was already a general fact among the country back in the 18th century. Children under 10 years old were taught at home. Then in 1946, the period of mandatory school attendance was extended from 6 to 15 years old.

System Of Education In Iceland

Nordic educational systems are one of the best among European countries and other nations around the world. One of its main characteristics is that education is free. The great majority of schools, high schools and universities are founded by the State. Even the private ones receive funds from the government.

One of the members from the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture stated about the system of education in Iceland: “A fundamental principle of the Icelandic educational system is that everyone should have equal opportunities to acquire an education, irrespective of sex, economic status, residential location, religion, possible handicap, and cultural or social background”

Technology has a special role in the whole education system as well, but mostly during the first years. The government also considers fundamental to promote the creativity.

The educational system is divided in 4 stages. We will talk about each of them now.


Preschool or leikskóli is for children until they are 6 years old. This is a non-compulsory education period. The current legislation for this period dates from 2007. Actually, it is the local government who implements the regulation and guidelines. Parents should pay about 30% of the cost of running these institutions through a fee.

System Of Education In Iceland


Compulsory or grunnskóli comprises primary and lower secondary. As the name implies, it is mandatory for every child and adolescent between 6 and 16 years old. The school year lasts 9 months, as in many developed countries. It ranges from late August- early September to late May – early June.

The system of education in Iceland states that it is the right of the children to attend school. It also should be in the same area where they live at. At the same time it is their parent’s responsibility to register them and make sure they attend school every day.

Every educational institution is mixed, and children tend to be separated by age. However, because of the geography of the country, there are some isolated areas where child from different ages study together. There can be around 10 pupils in the school!. As a fact, 50% of the Icelandic schools have less than 100 students.

Upper secondary

Framhaldsskóli or “continued school” comes after low secondary school and it is optional. These high schools are known as “gymnasia”. Even if it is non-compulsory education, all the students that have finished low secondary have the right to attend this level. This stage is still free, students are only required to pay an enrolment fee and buy their own textbooks.

There are different gymnasia schools divided in:

  • Grammar schools
  • Industrial-vocational schools
  • Comprehensive schools
  • Specialised vocational schools

System Of Education In Iceland

The System of Education in Iceland Among the Best?

Higher education

There are eight institutions for háskóli in the country. The University of Iceland firstly opened in 1911. It is still the main institution for higher education in the country. Although new universities have opened since then. The current law about higher education is the oldest, it dates from 1997. In institutions run by the state, there are only admission fees but not tuition fees.

In the system of education in Iceland, the government offers financial support to some students. They should start paying back this money in two years after finishing their degree. Foreign students can also apply for these loans and there are also studentships for foreigners to study Icelandic language and literature.

In Iceland is common that university students already live emancipated and combine the university with part time jobs.

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