I saw a great report on Buzzfeed the other day where the PISA results in math, science and reading of the 65 OECD participating countries were compared with how much students in those countries agreed with the statement: “I am happy in school.”
Being from Iceland I have to say I’m proud of our results. Above average in PISA and near the top in student happiness.
Happiness is not something that comes easily, nor should its presence or absence in schools be ignored. Having happy students means that they are doing work they care about, doing relevant activities in a positive environment. Having fun in the school and in the classroom is in my mind infinitely more important than remembering facts for a standardised test. Happiness is so often forgotten in the race to the top and teaching to the test and some teachers haven’t seen their students smile in a long time, if ever.
I believe one of the reasons children in Iceland are happier than in most other countries to be our broad curriculum. In 1st-4th grade the subjects art, cooking, sewing and music occupy together a bigger part of the school day than math. Some schools have dance and acting as part of the curriculum, swimming lessons are taught to every class from 1st to 10th grade and life skills is on every grades weekly timetable.
Recently the national teachers education was changed from 3 years to a 5 year program with bot Bachelor and Masters degree’s and working teachers have a mandatory 150 hours per year on Professional Development. Standardised tests are done in the beginning of 4th, 7th in math and reading while the 10th grade exams cover math, Icelandic, Danish, English and Science are done at the end of 10th grade. As well as taking part in the OECDs PISA test every 3 years.
In Iceland most people consider themselves to have equal chances and in a recent done by a University of Missouri master’s student found only 1.1% of participants identified themselves as upper class, while 1.5% saw themselves as lower class. The remaining 97% identified themselves as upper-middle class, lower-middle class, or working class. Education is free and you attend the school you want, regardless of grades or social status. Schools in Iceland are inclusive schools following the national policy “Skóli án aðgreiningar” where all students, regardless of their physical or mental abilities should get to study at their local school, with other children from their neighbourhood and get the help they need there to succeed. The national curriculum in Iceland clearly states as well that games should be used for all ages and that children should enjoy their childhood because it has a purpose in itself, and the early years are not just about preparing a child for further studies and going into the workforce.
I have two video I made in 2012. The first one was made for Burley Elementary School, Chicago, IL. about what my 2nd grade did in March 2012 prior to my visit to their school about two weeks later.
As you can see dance, acting, going to the senior centre, playing cards, yoga, games and so on is all a part of reaching the whole child, having fun at school and enjoying their youth. The second video I made in 2012 for a lecture called “Joy In The Classroom” that was showed at the University of Iceland and is about how my class had fun, smiled and looked forward to coming to school.