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Education & Skills  

The Icelandic School System - Overview

  • Kindergarten from 1 or 2 years old to 6 years old.​
  • Primary school from 6-16 years Compulsory Education.
  • Secondary school from 16-19 years old (and older). Teenagers aged 16-18 have a right to attend secondary school. ​
  • In secondary school, people study for their matriculation examination or vocational studies. ​
  • University or specialised schools.​
  • Continued education for adults.


  • Kindergarten is the first educational level. Most children in Iceland start attending kindergarten at the age of 1-2 years old, but it's not compulsory. ​
  • Kindergartens are either private or run by the municipalities. ​
  • It is necessary to apply for a place at a kindergarten and sometimes there's a waiting list. ​
  • Children who speak Icelandic as a second language have priority. ​
  • Most children attend their local kindergarten. ​
  • Kindergarten is not free of charge. Parents share the cost with the municipalities. There is a discount if parents have more than one child at the same kindergarten. ​
  • Children get a hot meal at lunchtime. They also get fruit, bread and toppings throughout the day. ​
  • Children aged 1-3 nap during the day and get mattresses, pillows and blankets. ​
  • The children play outdoors every day. Even if it's raining or snowing. They should own rain gear, rain boots, a snowsuit, snow boots, a hat and mittens. ​
  • The children are supervised carefully, both indoors and outdoors. ​
  • Being outdoors is fun and refreshing and if the children are properly dressed, they won't get cold. ​

What Do Children Do at Kindergarten?

  • There is a daily schedule at kindergartens, and certain constants in the work. ​
  • Among activities at all kindergartens are:​
    • Working with language skill stimulation with the children and laying the foundation of literacy skills and all education. ​
    • Singing with the children and teaching them many songs.​
    • Reading to the children and letting them look at books.​
    • The children do arts and crafts and take part in diverse creative projects.​
    • The children play, both indoors and outdoors (in a special outdoors area with safe playground equipment).​
    • The children occasionally go on field trips with their teachers. They always wear highly visible safety vests on those occasions. ​

Kindergarten - Continued

  • Parents are invited to parent-teacher meetings with a kindergarten teacher. There they go over the child's development and how the child is faring at the kindergarten. 
  • Children at kindergarten undergo developmental assessments and phonological awareness assessments.​
  • Children with disabilities receive training and support from a developmental therapist or special needs teacher. ​
  • Kindergarten work is based on the Icelandic National Curriculum Guide for Kindergartens based on legislation for that educational level. Each kindergarten also publishes a plan of operation.
  • The work done with children in kindergartens is professional and diverse.​
  • Children of foreign origin receive a foundation and training in Icelandic that is necessary for a good start to their schooling.​
  • Children practice a lot of things at kindergarten:​
    • There is systematic work done with language skill stimulation and their language development.​
    • They practice teamwork and consideration towards each other.​
    • They become more independent.​
    • They are better prepared to begin their schooling. 

Primary School - General information

  • There is 10-year compulsory schooling in Iceland. ​
  • Children start school the year they turn 6 years old. They start in first grade. ​
  • Children finish compulsory schooling the year they turn 16 years old, when they're in tenth grade. ​
  • School from 1st-10th grade is called primary school. ​
  • All children have a right to attend school and parents have an obligation, according to law, to have their children attend school. ​
  • Parents have to apply for holidays for their children and report illness. ​
  • The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture publishes the Icelandic National Curriculum Guide for Compulsory Schools on the basis of legislation for that educational level.

Primary school

  • All children have the right to individualised education and special needs education if they need it.​
  • Children participate in all subjects, for example both girls and boys participate in wood shop, home economics, swimming and physical education. ​
  • Physical education is taught every year of primary school. Children take a swim test in 9th grade. ​
  • Parents are not allowed to keep their children at home even if they (the parents) object to some of the subjects. ​
  • All children automatically move up a grade after the summer holidays in the fall. In that context, academic performance is not important. ​


  • In a democratic society, the residents of the country must have both general knowledge and be able to think independently. ​
  • Schools are responsible for providing children with general education and train independent work methods and critical thinking. ​
  • Individuals are assessed on their need for specialised classes in Icelandic as a second language or support in their general studies, and adapted study plans are made for academic subjects if necessary. ​
  • Assistance with homework can also be applied for at the school. ​
  • There are multiple subjects taught at schools, for example:​
    • Icelandic, reading, writing, foreign languages, math, natural sciences, social studies, sex education, life skills, computer science, physical education, crafts, art, wood shop, home economics, music and swimming. ​

Study Assessment

  • Assessment of academic achievement is entered into the Mentor system - Assessment scale:​
    • Outstanding​
    • Proficient​
    • On the right track​
    • Needs practice​
    • Not proficient​
  • Parents are encouraged to get detailed explanations of the criteria for assessment for different subjects from teachers. ​
  • Progress is assessed on an individual basis and it's good to keep that in mind for parent-teacher meetings. ​
  • Occasionally, teenagers must take preparatory classes in some subjects when they start secondary school, even if they have completed primary school in Iceland. ​


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