Inclusive education – Education for All – is the guiding policy for the national education system in Iceland from early years to the transition period. This means addressing and responding to the learning needs of all pupils without treating or defining pupils in need of special support any differently from other pupils. In accordance with this, there is no separate legislation for special education at any of the four levels of education in Iceland. In short Education for All means that:
- There is equal opportunity for all to attend school and acquire education in accordance with their ability and needs.
- Schools must attend to the ability and needs of all pupils.
- Pupils and/or their parents decide on which school they attend.
- Pupils in need of special support have the right to special provision.
In the school system preschool is considered to be the first education level. A key element of the system is coherence from preschool level to upper secondary school level. New Acts that amongst others strengthen this coherence were agreed for those educational levels in 2008, that is the Preschool, Compulsory School, Upper Secondary School and Higher Education Act. In addition a number of implementing Regulations have been issued providing for various policy details. The Icelandic government has also ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Child (1992) and adopted the Salamanca Declaration (Salamanca 1994) and the Education for All Declaration (Dakar 2000).
There is a separate legislation on the affairs of the handicapped (1992) that stipulates that all individuals with handicap (defined as mental retardation, psychiatric illness, physical disability, blindness and/or deafness as well as handicaps resulting from chronic illness and accidents) shall be helped to live and function in a normal community along with other people. For this purpose, where a handicapped person's needs are not covered by general services within the fields of education, health and social services, special services, detailed in the law, shall be provided.
The Preschool Act (2008) can be found at http://eng.menntamalaraduneyti.is/media/MRN-pdf/Preschool_Act.pdf
The Compulsory Act (2008) can be found at http://eng.menntamalaraduneyti.is/media/MRN-PDF-Althjodlegt/Compulsory_school_Act.pdf
The Upper Secondary School Act (2008) can be found at http://eng.menntamalaraduneyti.is/media/MRN-PDF-Althjodlegt/Upper_secondary_school_Act.pdf
Act on the affairs of people with disabilties (1992) can be found at http://eng.felagsmalaraduneyti.is/legislation/nr/3704
UN Convention on the Rights of Child in Icelandic can be found at http://www.barnaheill.is/content/blogcategory/20/40/
Education for all Declaration (Dakar) can be found at http://bella.mrn.stjr.is/utgafur/Dakarskyrslensk.pdf
The Salamanca Declaration can be found at http://www.menntamalaraduneyti.is/utgefid-efni/utgefin-rit-og-skyrslur/HTMLrit/nr/2123
The Education for All policy places emphasis on the National Curriculum Guides for preschool (2003), compulsory school (2007) and upper secondary school (2004). The Curriculum Guidelines assures conformity of goals for all three levels of schooling. In drawing up the National Curriculum Guidelines, in the organisation of study, and in producing and selecting study materials, special effort was made to ensure that the opportunities for study accessible to all pupils are as equal as possible.
The objectives of study and instruction, and the working practices of preschool, compulsory schools and upper secondary schools are such as to prevent discrimination on the basis of origin, gender, residence, class, religion or handicap. All school activities take into account the varied personality, maturity, talent, ability and interests of pupils.
The National Curriculum Guidelines for preschools emphasise that the pre-schools must show consideration for the needs of each individual child, to ensure that they can reach their potential in a peer group on their own terms. Special consideration must be shown to children handicapped in any way or who have emotional and/or social difficulties. The child needs to be provided with special assistance to compensate for the limitations that their handicap imposes on them. The same applies to a child who is deaf or has a hearing disability, a blind child or one that is visually impaired. The National Curriculum also emphasises that the preschool will help children from other cultures to become active participants in their new society without losing their connections with their own culture, language and faith.
The new National Curriculum Guidelines for compulsory schools emphasise instruction in the fields of information and technology, which include, among other things, a special course in computer use, information technology, innovation, and technology. Familiarity with computers and computer use may now be considered important prerequisites for success in education and on the job, in addition to which use of this newer technology increases pupil interest in studying and the possibility for self-instruction. Computer technology can also be beneficial with certain groups who are weak in certain areas or who have difficulties. All pupils will now be given the opportunity to achieve the lowest limit of ability in the use and handling of computers, data acquisition, processing and presenting information, and also practise in various skill factors such as word processing.
A National Curriculum Guide for special units in upper secondary schools was published in the year 2005. The special units have special curriculum guidelines to meet the needs of disabled pupils. The programme offered by these units has three different levels depending on the needs of different pupils and lasts four years.
According to the Preschool Act, Compulsory School Act and Upper Secondary School Act, the staff of each school is obliged to write a working guide which is to be based on the National Curriculum Guidelines, but gives each school an opportunity to take into account its circumstances and special characteristics. The school working guide is to be an administrative plan for each school. It is to account for the school year and to include an annual calendar, the organisation of teaching, the aims and content of the education offered, pupil assessment procedures, assessment of the work that goes on in the school, extra-curricular activities and other aspects of the operation of the school including how it is going to meet pupils with special needs.
Curriculum in English for the preschool level can be found at http://bella.mrn.stjr.is/utgafur/leikskensk.pdf
Curriculum in English for the compulsory school level general section can be found at http://bella.mrn.stjr.is/utgafur/general.pdf and the life skills section of the Curriculum can be found at http://bella.mrn.stjr.is/utgafur/compuls.pdf
Curriculum in English for the upper secondary school level general section can be found at: http://bella.mrn.stjr.is/utgafur/almhluti_frhsk_enska.pdf and the life skills section of the Curriculum can be found at http://bella.mrn.stjr.is/utgafur/upper.pdf
A National Curriculum Guide for special units in upper secondary schools in Icelandic can be found at http://bella.mrn.stjr.is/utgafur/starfsbrautir2005.pdf
According to the law on pre-schools, from 2008 pre-school age children who, because of their handicap or because of emotional or social difficulties, need specialist assistance or training are provided with such support, according to certain rules, in their own pre-school. All pupils are given regular check-ups to monitor their health and development.
Chapter 8 in the law deals with the right of pre-school children to specialist assistance, training and counselling service. Article 22 specifies that pupils who, due to disabilities or emotional or social difficulties, need specialist assistance and training, shall have the right to receive these in the pre schools under the guidance of specialists. Pre schools shall also be designed and run in such a way as to be able to cater for disabled children.
The pre-school specialist services provide parents of the children at the schools, and the staff of the pre-schools, with the necessary counselling and services in accordance with the further provisions of the regulations on the scope of the service. The Pre Schools' Specialist Service may be operated jointly with the Compulsory Schools' Specialist Service.
See the law in English at: http://eng.menntamalaraduneyti.is/media/MRN-pdf/Preschool_Act.pdf
The most important legislation which affects the provision of special education is the law concerning compulsory education from 2008. The law stipulates ten years of compulsory schooling for children and adolescents between the ages of six and sixteen. The term special education is, however, nowhere to be found in the law. The ideology is that the compulsory ‘basic school’ shall be inclusive, catering for SEN as well as other educational needs of its pupils. Since 1 August 1996, all compulsory schools, including special schools and units, have been run by local municipalities.
One article of the law (article 17) specifies that children and adolescents who need special education because of specific learning difficulties or because they have emotional or social problems and/or are handicapped, have a right to special support in instruction in their studies. The main policy is that such instruction should take place in their local home school. If a pupil's parents or guardians, teachers or other specialists feel that the pupil is not receiving suitable instruction in its home school, the parents or guardians may apply for the pupil to attend a special school. The instruction can be on a one-to-one basis or take place in a group within or outside the mainstream classroom, in special departments within schools or in special schools.
A regulation (no. 386/1996) for special education is based on the law. The regulation for special education in compulsory education is the only regulation for this purpose at the four school levels. It deals with all special needs teaching at the compulsory school level. According to this regulation, special education involves changes of educational aims, curricular content and teaching context and/or methods as compared with what other pupils of the same age are offered. Special education is organised on a short- or long-term basis depending on the needs of the pupils, possibly lasting his or her entire schooling. The municipalities are obliged to ensure access to a special school or a special unit for those pupils whose disabilities make it impossible for them to take advantage of educational facilities in their local school.
The municipalities are also obliged to offer education for children who are in hospitals or are sick for a long period.
See the law in English at: http://eng.menntamalaraduneyti.is/media/MRN-PDF-Althjodlegt/Compulsory_school_Act.pdf
Upper Secondary School
According to the law of 2008 on upper secondary schools everyone is entitled to education at upper secondary school level. Handicapped pupils (as defined in the law on the affairs of the handicapped) are to be provided with instruction and special support in their studies. Specialist advice and suitable conditions are to be ensured. In their studies handicapped pupils are to follow the mainstream curriculum with other pupils as far as possible. The law also provides for the possibility of establishing special units within upper secondary schools for handicapped pupils.
The law on upper secondary school stipulates that deaf pupils have the right to special instruction in the Icelandic sign language.
See the law in English at: http://eng.menntamalaraduneyti.is/Acts/
As with the other school levels there is no law that deals with special needs or handicapped students in higher education. There is, however, a regulation dealing with this at the University of Iceland (No. 497/2002). At the university students can apply for special study circumstances and special examination procedures, which the university provides through its Counselling Service
Act on the affairs of people with disabilties, No. 59/1992
Education for all: Declaration adopted by the World Education Forum in Dakar, 2000: Iceland: Committee Report. Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. Reykjavík. 2002.
The Compulsory School Act No 91/2008
Pre Schools Act No 90/2008
The upper-secondary school Act No 92/2008
The National Curriculum Guide for Pre-Schools. Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. Reykjavík. 2003.
The National Curriculum Guide for the compulsory school: general section. Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. Reykjavík. Reykjavik. 2004
The National Curriculum Guide for the compulsory school: life skills section. Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. Reykjavik. 2004
The National Curriculum in Icelandic for the upper secondary school: general section. Reykjavik. 2004.
The National Curriculum in Icelandic for the upper secondary school: special units. Reykjavik. 2004.
SALAMANCA-YFIRLÝSINGIN og RAMMAÁÆTLUN UM AÐGERÐIR vegna nemenda með sérþarfir. Alþjóðlega ráðstefna um menntun nemenda með sérþarfir Salamanca, Spáni, 7.-10. júní 1994. Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. Reykjavík. 1994.