Socio – cultural education situation in Iceland
Iceland is the most sparsely populated country in Europe with an average about three inhabitants per square km. Almost four-fifths of the country are uninhabited and mostly uninhabitable, the population being concentrated in a narrow coastal belt, valleys and the southwest corner of the country.
Iceland’s population is around 313.000, 2/3 of them live in the capital, Reykjavik, and surrounding areas.
Iceland is a progressive modern European society with a high standard of living and a high level of technology and education.
Level of education and Life Long Learning education:
The level of education is high in Iceland. Literacy has been universal in Iceland since the end of the eighteenth century. In 1907 school attendance was made obligatory for all children aged 10-14.
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.
Education in Iceland has traditionally been organised within the public sector, and there are very few private institutions in the school system. Almost all private schools receive public funding. In pre-schools children receive education and support for their all-round development, thus preparing them for compulsory school and life itself.
At the pre-school level, the nucleus of the educational work is play. The main purpose of compulsory schooling is to prepare pupils for life and work in a continuously developing, democratic society. The organisation of the school as well as its work shall, therefore, be guided by tolerance, Christian values and democratic cooperation. At the upper secondary level anyone who has completed compulsory education or has turned eighteen has the right to enter a course of studies. An effort must be made to give pupils a choice of subjects and forms of instruction in accordance with their needs and wishes. The primary aims of upper secondary education are to prepare pupils for life and work in a democratic society by offering them suitable opportunities to learn and develop individually, and prepare them for employment through specialised studies leading to professional qualifications or further study.
Universities are entrusted with the task of carrying out research and offering higher education programmes in different subjects, as stipulated by the legislation governing each institution. The main purpose of adult education is to encourage equality of opportunity among adults without regard to location, age, gender, occupation or previous education.
Life-long learning is a global concept, covering all education that individuals receive in the course of their lives. Important elements in life-long learning are all types of shorter long-term continuing studies, supplementary studies and hobby-related studies.
Social and Cultural education, organizations, actions:
Iceland is a country where live representatives of more than 123 nationalities. Having in mind, that countries total population is about 300 000 – the number of representatives of foreign cultures is high in Iceland.
There are few academic environment institutions where there are best conditions for cultural exchange: Universities (University of Reykjavik, University of Iceland, University of Akureyri, others), other education institutions. These kinds of organizations in Iceland are always very open to foreign students and encouragement of cultural exchange through studying and social life. But it should be mentioned, that students who get knowledge of socio – cultural environment are just one segment of society.
Majority of actions related with socio – cultural education in Iceland are made in informal way, most often by certain activities organized by number of organizations, institutions, municipalities, NGOs, communities. Some of them are listed and described shortly below:
● Intercultural center – Alþjóðahús, www.ahus.is
The primary objective of the Intercultural centre is to provide a forum for a multicultural society in Iceland. In a society that is truly multicultural, there is a dynamic interaction between all peoples of various different origins. In a multicultural society, different cultural groups live together, side by side. They are all equal, showing mutual respect for each other, working together towards the common goal of creating a multicultural society.
The Intercultural Centre promotes this dynamic interaction between peoples of different origins and cultural backgrounds. The Intercultural Centre works systematically to prevent prejudice in our society by providing extensive educational programmes, introductions to different societies, cultural events and by creating an inclusive forum where those of Icelandic origin interact with those who have come to Iceland from abroad. The Intercultural Centre is an advocate for the rights of migrants and everyone of non-Icelandic descent.
Main functions of the centre are information service, legal advice, counselling service, Icelandic lessons, publication, translation and interpretation.
During the years Intercultural Centre Ahus became very popular among immigrants and people interested in other cultures.
Ahus is very dynamic and interesting centre that offers various useful publications organizes cultural events, provides minorities with space for organizing activities, holding mother tongue lessons for bilingual or foreign origin children.
Ahus used to publish magazine few time a year. Magazine was printed in few languages with useful and interesting information for foreigners as well as for Icelanders.
● CIRRA – Center for Immigration Reseach Reykjavik Academy - Miðstöð InnflytjendaRannsókna ReykjavíkurAkademíunni, www.mirra.is was founded the fall of 2006. As the name indicates CIRRA is a research centre with a primary focus on immigration and international migration. In addition to research, information and data collection, CIRRA acts as a bridge/link between institutions in Iceland that serve immigrants and the research community. This is a very important relation and enables collaboration both between the service institutes themselves as well as between them and the research community. An association of this kind is at the interests of everyone working within the field. CIRRA also co-operates on an international level with similar research institutes and universities.
One of CIRRA’s first objectives is to map the immigrant communities in Iceland. This project gathers information on how the immigrant population is distributed among urban and rural areas, cultural background, gender, age, family/marital status, religious affiliation, occupation and more.
● Multicultural and Information Center - Fjölmenningarsetur , www.mcc.is
The initiative to found the Multicultural Centre came originally from an interest group on cultural diversity in the Westfjords, later named Roots (Rætur). The representatives of the Westfjords in Althingi implemented their idea and in the year 2000 the following parliamentary resolution was approved in Althingi:
“Althingi agrees to entrust the minister of social affairs to prepare the founding of a centre for immigrants in the Westfjords, in co-operation with municipalities, the Icelandic Red Cross and the Directorate of Labour in the Westfjords. The centre’s purpose will be to facilitate communications between Icelanders and foreign citizens, to work with municipalities to enhance services for foreign citizens, to try and prevent problems in communications between individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds and to facilitate the integration of foreigners into Icelandic society.” -125th assembly 1999/2000, no. 220.
The Multicultural Centre was formally opened in 2001, July 30th
The Multicultural centre has the fundamental role of facilitating communications between individuals from different backgrounds, and to enhance the services provided to foreign citizens residing in Iceland and to those interested in moving to Iceland.
The Multicultural centre provides an extensive number of services for foreigners. Among other services, the Multicultural centre offers assistance through phone in English, Polish, Serbian/Croatian and Thai.
The Multicultural centre also conveys Icelandic news in Polish and Serbian/Croatian through the RUV-TV teletext.
The Multicultural centre is located in Ísafjörður, and provides services for the whole country.
The main goal of majority of mentioned organizations is to provide information and consult. But practice showed that all of them are making extra actions that encourage different cultures to learn about each other get teach others about local culture.
Majority of municipalities, schools, society centres, NGOs also carry out one – time or lasting projects that provides opportunity for foreign people to meet each other or Icelandic people. F.e. meetings for mothers with small babies, thematic work- shop meetings, Christmas preparation and present making workshops, etc.
A big work of socio – cultural education is carried out by communities of people of foreign nationalities. These communities usually organize various event in order to present their culture and traditions to local and other groups of society.
Probably the biggest festivals in Iceland related with Socio – Cultural environment are:
● “Festival of Nations” – a festival where representatives of various nationalities are encouraged to present their culture through dance, food, by special literature and informational leaflets, entertainment activities.
● “Reykjavik Cultural Night” – event has become an essential part of cultural life in Iceland with thousands of people strolling the streets of the city on this exciting and eventful night. Culture Night offers the chance to enjoy a variety of activities ranging from traditional shows and exhibitions to more unusual happenings. A number of cultural institutes such as galleries, ateliers, shops, cafés, churches, restaurants and bars in Reykjavik city centre stay open until late. The celebrations culminate in a large fireworks show. The immensely popular Reykjavik Marathon takes place on the same day. Organizers of Cultural Night often invite foreign performers or ask for communities of foreigners in Iceland to present special program.