What strikes me most about Iceland is not the coexistence of the hot volcanoes and the cold sea. While I continue to be thrilled about the sagas and the magic of the history, there is something else that makes Iceland a special place.
I am always impressed when I think about how people in Iceland view education as a fundamental element of survival and community, and a condition of good life. What anyone arriving to Iceland needs to understand is that these people can have a very different idea about what education is for and what kind of schooling we do need in the future.
It is exactly because of this different meaning of education that the joint work between educators and students in Iceland and the rest of the world is so significant. If one paints a picture of how Iceland’s education system performs vis-à-vis the rest of the world, it would mostly be done using dark colours. For example, OECD’s PISA study repeatedly ranks Iceland well below of international averages in 15-year-olds reading, mathematics and science literacies.
But if you dare to visit this land of dreams and storytelling you soon realise that behind those big data there is another world that can only be described through conversations, stories and narratives. Iceland has helped me and many others to better understand how numbers and statistics can lead to a limited understanding of what is really happening in social systems and lives of people.
So, what do they mean when they speak about good education? At the heart of the answer is view to education that is much broader in scope than what PISA and some other international indicators address and measure.
As I see it, in Iceland good education refers to process that engages children as essential partners in learning and values their voice as an important part of the learning process. Good education aims at children’s and adults’ wellbeing, resilience and happiness, not just high scores in knowledge tests and examinations.
The way Iceland helped their youth to live healthier and better just few years ago by engaging them in activities, offering them challenging opportunities to keep away bad habits, and giving them a chance to lead the change is such a great success that the new Finnish Government now speaks about the Iceland Model to be used to help teenagers in Finland to do the same.
In 2017 the City Council of Reykjavik kicked of a process aiming at the new education policy for 2030 that they named “Let Our Dreams Come True”. I had an opportunity to be there with wide range of colleagues and friends when this initiative was created. It was natural, from the outset, that the process like this would make only a little sense without engaging young people directly to speak about their perspectives, hopes and dreams.
Courageous leadership by the Council, Mayor Dagur Eggertsson and his team has been the main reason why I have stayed as a supporter and friend of that process. Jean Stiles, Jean-Claude Couture and other educators from Edmonton, Canada, have brought invaluable insights to the work in Iceland that not just asks students what they want but how they would like to change the world.
In October 2017, “More Than Your Evidence” was a theme that emerged from a Reykjavik summit attended by young people from Iceland, Alberta, Norway and Finland as they were working on to understand their identities, roles and places in their societies and the world.
The Social Innovation Lab in November 2019, continued to engage children and youth in building their futures. The main outcomes and discoveries of that process were outlined on the pages of the Social Innovation Action Lab Report published last year.
My firm view is that the incredible co-work by young people and adults in Iceland is leading to further efforts to continue the involvement of students in changing the world that is much for them than us. Iceland’s success in navigating through the storms of the global pandemic is just one evidence of that.
I remain a strong supporter of the values and work based on them in Reykjavik and beyond. I do so for the sake of all of your children.
This text was originally published in the Social Innovation Action Lab report “(Re)imagining together – letting our dreams come true” in 2020 (by Dr Jean Stiles and Dr Jean-Claude Couture)