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Iceland - Closing the circle? A new Act on continuous education and training

ReferNet Iceland

The Icelandic Parliament passed an Act on continuous education in the spring of 2010. Since then, the process of writing relevant regulations has been ongoing and it is expected that it will be finalised in the beginning of 2011. In November 2010, the Act was formally introduced to all relevant stakeholders at a conference in Reykjavík.

The main rationale behind the Act was that only around 70 % of the Icelandic population have completed upper secondary education and Iceland is close to the bottom of the OECD list of national levels of upper-secondary graduates before the age of 24. Bad news as this is, what is worse is that the figure seems to remain stable, despite countless initiatives by both private and public parties.

With the new Act, it is hoped that everyone concerned will join hands in assisting people with little formal education and training in achieving better results. The main aim of the Act is to assist this group by offering relevant courses, better planning, more counselling, real competence validation where informal and non formal education and training is assessed and more assistance according to each person’s needs.

The main theme of the conference was how best to go about achieving all this. Professor Jón Torfi Jónasson, Dean of the School of Education at the University of Iceland pointed out that the new Act really aimed at providing people with the same education and training as the Upper Secondary School Act, only doing so later. Therefore he asked whether a separate system was really needed or whether upper secondary schools could not somehow be improved so that they could provide the necessary education and training for all, regardless of age. He also found that one groups was still left without any Act, e.g. people who had received some education and training but still needed to keep adding to it and revising what they had already learned. Therefore he questioned whether the circle had really been closed.
The Lifelong Learning Centres and other providers of education and training for people on the labour market stressed that they offered their training in a different environment, which was something many people who had failed a traditional schools needed.

The special needs of people with disabilities and people who do not speak Icelandic fluently were stressed by two speakers. The school system is officially open to these two groups but research shows that only a small fraction of them manages to receive some sort of education and often this ends in some sort of an appendix which gives neither further study rights nor qualifications recognised on the labour market.
From the debate, it is obvious that the coming months and even years will be a time of thinking and planning and improving the quality of education and training for people of all ages. This will probably involve some restructuring of present educational offers and may lead to merging of different learning providers, new educational establishment and hopefully a mass influx of new adult students.