Hey, let’s skip high school!

kip high school? Well, Icelanders, who make up one of the most educated nations in the world, do. In a way.

kip high school? Well, Icelanders, who make up one of the most educated nations in the world, do.

In a way.

The Icelandic school system often confuses Canadians, and there is a reason for that.

As in Canada, the state decides upon the broad, basic rules of schools — though in Iceland, this responsibility falls to the federal government and not the territorial or provincial one.

The beginning of children’s schooling is quite similar to that of Canada; kids begin school at age five or six, and at age 13, they move on to less regimented classes — usually within the same school except in the most remote areas — of what could be seen as the first years of high school.

But then, after Grade 10, at age 16, teenagers are free from school.

Though most select to continue their education in one way or another, they don’t have to anymore.


But neither can they go straight to university.

In between those two, elementary school and university, there are four years of college.

Some students choose to just do the basic studies, equivalent of the last two years of high school and the first two years of general arts in university, which give them what is called Stúdentspróf, or student diploma.

That paper opens the way into any of Iceland’s nine universities.

But many more students choose to take a trade along with their Stúdentspróf.

More and more of the middle schools offer teenagers a trade along with the paper that gets them into university.

This is something all my family did — my sister became a lithographer, my older brother a blacksmith, my younger brother an electrician and I graduated as a licensed practical nurse.

It didn’t include any extra classes, and we had guaranteed work over the summers as apprentices.

Some of my friends got a diploma in accounting; others became mechanics, and yet others, chefs. Lately, more trades have been opening up — car building, car painting, textiles, sport and something that could be called licensed practical social worker, to name but a very few of the trades available.

One positive thing about making school optional at age 16 is that those kids who sleep through high school — and there always are more of these than one would like to think — are more likely to go out, get a job and be more productive.

Some of them return to school later, but either way, these particular students may not have lost so much by not being forced to sit through those two last years of high school.

It may also be one reason for why Icelandic teenagers seem slightly more responsible than Canadian ones; at 16, they are forced to be more responsible, simply by having to pick their own school.

(Up until college, kids must go to the school nearest to them, unless they or their parents have a valid reason not to send them there. When it comes to college, the youth pick the school they want to go to, just like with Canadian universities.)

But a big negative, and one that many students complain loudly over, is having to spend four whole years in college, when they can move to Denmark at age 16 and be done with such studies in two or three years.

So in recent years, the state has loosened the rules, and now the motivated A-students can take their courses in three or even two years in at least one college.

This option only suits those intending to attend university — this cannot be done if the youth wants to study a trade as well.

Furthermore, a big push is now being made towards reducing the four years to three, and make the middle school more like the ones in Denmark and the other Nordic countries.

So far, that has not happened, mainly due to protest from the teachers of the oldest middle school.

Menntaskólinn í Reykjavík still runs on a system created in 1846, though it builds on a school started in 1056, at the bishops’ estate.

It is one of very few, if not the only, school that still tests its students on all subjects they’ve learned in the past four years in the spring of their graduation year.

The teachers fear the relaxing of rules would upset the curriculum and force their school to offer a less effective education.

But the law will likely be revised within the next few years, so each individual college can set its own rules and the students can decide how long they want to spend on the education that will get them into university.

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