Iceland to Vinland
One thousand years ago, Leif the Lucky brought a bit of Iceland
to the shores of Newfoundland and Labrador. More recently, Dr.
Jean Brown of Memorials Faculty of Education has been continuing
this tradition through her research on the Icelandic educational
Despite the provinces recent surge of interest in Iceland,
Dr. Brown noticed that education was not being studied.
So, with funding from the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers
Association, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, the provincial
Department of Development and Rural Renewal, and Industry Canada,
along with help from the Centre for Telelearning and Rural Education,
she did a comparative study of education in rural Iceland and
in School District #2 (Northern Peninsula and Southern Labrador).
Dr. Browns work was not an individual effort. I knew
that if I was to use a traditional research design ... it was
going to take an awful long time to discover what I discovered,
she commented. Instead, the research design was to have
a study tour, in which educators and key organizations from around
the province would be invited to be part of. They would become
researchers ... and be given tasks that were particular to their
expertise. Because of this team effort, aspects of labour,
administration, technology, and curriculum received specialized
Iceland is well known for its economic vitality and high level
of literacy. What Dr. Brown found was a tantalizing mix of parallels
and dissimilarities between society and geography with Newfoundland
and Labrador. If you look at the island of Iceland, you
will see that they have small, remote, rural communities, just
as we do. They are often isolated with very difficult geographical
conditions which make the providing of education really difficult.
So, queried Dr. Brown, why have they got a 100 per
cent literacy while we are the lowest in Canada?
The difference, she found, lies in the Icelandic models
emphasis on pre-school education, municipal involvement, and
the professional development of teachers.
Dr. Brown, citing research in early childhood development, believes
that pre-school is an important ingredient in Icelands
success. There are four levels of schooling, and the first
level is pre-school thats quite different from Newfoundland.
Outside of the urban areas in Newfoundland, youll find
very few pre-schools they cant afford to operate
This is primarily because pre-school is completely privatized
in our province. The situation in Iceland is very different:
In any community, (pre-school) has to be provided. Its
costs are shared between the municipality, the parents and the
state one-third, one-third, one-third.
This division of labour is also evident in the decentralized
decision-making process. In particular, in Iceland the role of
the local community is crucial, whereas in Newfoundland and Labrador
the province and school boards are responsible for education.
Municipalities are responsible for education. That is a
big difference. In a small community, there wouldnt be
a school closure unless the municipality itself decided,
Dr. Brown explained. In Newfoundland, there is no role
whatever for the local municipal government in running schools.
Iceland makes a serious investment in its teachers. The
kind of ongoing, short-term modules for professional development
has really been lacking in our province, Dr. Brown commented.
In law, such courses have to be provided in Iceland. We
can learn from that kind of professional development model.
These differing emphases are a product of the unique society
that is Iceland. You cant look at education without
looking at the society, she said.
Icelands status as an independent nation is the foundation
of their educational thinking.One of the main things is
the difference between being a province and being a country.
(I) realized how much independence and control they truly have,
Dr. Brown pointed out. They have really strong public and
social programs ... education and public libraries being some
examples. Education is free all the way to and including post-secondary.
According to Dr. Brown, the structure of Icelands educational
system has deep roots: (Icelanders) come from a tradition
of an emphasis on literacy that goes back many generations,
she said. Icelands Lutheran Church inculcated a deep appreciation
of literacy, because every person within the Lutheran Church
was supposed to be able to read the Scriptures. Because
of this heritage, the access to and emphasis on reading
is much stronger in Iceland than in this province.
Finally, a good dose of self-awareness has helped the Icelanders
reach their educational goals. I found that, as a society,
they value their culture and really work at the preservation
of culture, Dr. Brown remarked. This, in particular, has
given music and art a central role in Icelandic curriculum: Theres
a lot more emphasis on the arts.
Is the Icelandic model applicable to this province? Dr. Brown
isnt sure: I dont know if we (in Newfoundland
and Labrador) value the school in the community enough. If it
came to an increase in our taxes, would we be willing to follow
the Icelandic example?
If the answer is affirmative, the Iceland of today might yet
again form a part of the Newfoundland and Labrador of tomorrow.