Executive Summary

Dr Hanna Ragnarsdóttir
Associate Professor, School of Education
University of Iceland
Briefing Notes
Diverse Teachers and Diverse Learners in Iceland
Immigrants in Iceland
The population of Iceland has in recent decades become increasingly diverse in
terms of languages, cultures and religions. The ratio of non-Icelandic citizens of the
total population in Iceland in 1995 was 1.8%. In 2000 it was 2.6%, in 2005 3.6% and
in 2010 6.8% (Statistics Iceland, 2010). The origins of the ten largest groups of nonIcelandic citizens and numbers in each group are listed in Table 1.
Table 1.
Origins of non-Icelandic citizens in 2010.
Ten largest groups
The numbers are out of a total population of 317,630 in Iceland in 2010 (Statistics
Iceland, 2010). Out of the total population, 26,171 (8.2%) are registered as
immigrants, i.e. born in other countries than Iceland and have parents other than
Numbers of pupils in compulsory schools having another mother tongue than
Icelandic in 2009 were 2,314 (5.4%) out of a total number of 42,929 pupils in
Icelandic compulsory schools. These pupils had 43 different mother tongues (in the
case of other 33 students mother tongue is not specified).
Numbers of children in preschools having another mother tongue than Icelandic
in 2009 were 1,614 (8.6%) out of a total number of 18,716 children in Icelandic
preschools. These children had altogether 41 different mother tongues (in the
case of other 80 children mother tongue is not specified).
 The numbers of children having another mother tongue than Icelandic vary
greatly between schools and areas in Iceland.
The backgrounds of teachers in Iceland are not officially registered, so official
demographics in terms of mother languages and ethnicities are not available. Other
factors such as gender, education, age and residence, on the other hand, are
documented. However, detailed research in Iceland has indicated the total numbers
and ethnicities of teachers in Iceland. Thus, a study conducted in 2005-6 (Lassen,
2007) reported 84 internationally educated teachers in Icelandic compulsory schools
(constituting 2% of the teacher population in Iceland). The teachers originated in 29
different countries in all continents.
According to research, an undefined number of internationally educated
teachers in Iceland are employed in other jobs than teaching. Thus, an ongoing
study in a Polish school in Iceland shows that most of the 20 qualified Polish
teachers employed there are not employed as teachers in Icelandic schools
during the week and only work as qualified teachers on Saturdays in the Polish
school (Ragnarsdóttir & Zielińska, forthcoming; Szkoła Polska w Reykjaviku,
2010). Similarly, findings from a recent survey among immigrants have indicated
that 50% of employed immigrants have jobs where their education is not
relevant or applied. And 74% of immigrants in the same survey have not tried to
have their education accredited (Félagsvísindastofnun HÍ & Fjölmenningarsetur,
According to research, there are more internationally educated
teachers and teacher assistants working in preschools than in compulsory schools in
Iceland although their numbers are undefined (Ragnarsdóttir, 2010).
The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture (2011) in Iceland issues
authorization for the professions of Preschool Teachers, Compulsory School Teachers
and Upper Secondary School Teachers. The ministry does not provide courses on
acclimatization for internationally educated teacher. Neither do universities.
However, a number of immigrants with university education are registered in
teacher training programs at the University of Iceland (Háskóli Íslands, 2010).
Icelandic references
Félagsvísindastofnun HÍ og Fjölmenningarsetur. (2009). Innflytjendur á Íslandi.
Viðhorfskönnun. Retrieved January 19, 2011, from
Lassen, B. H. (2007). Í tveimur menningarheimum: Reynsla og upplifun kennara af
erlendum uppruna af því að starfa í grunnskólum á Íslandi. Unpublished master’s
thesis, Iceland University of Education, Reykjavík, Iceland.
Relevant references in English
Háskóli Íslands. (2010). Teaching studies, diploma programme. Retrieved January 19,
2011, from
Jónsdóttir, E. S. & Ragnarsdóttir, H. (2010). Multicultural education in Iceland:
vision or reality? Intercultural Education, 21(2), 153–167.
Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. (2011). Licence Application. Retrieved
January 19, 2011, from http://eng.menntamalaraduneyti.is/licence/
Ragnarsdóttir, H. (2008). Collisions and continuities: Ten immigrant families and their
children in Icelandic society and schools. Saarbrücken: VDM Verlag Dr. Müller.
Ragnarsdóttir, H. (2010). Internationally educated teachers and student teachers in
Iceland: Two qualitative studies. Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and
Policy, 100 (Special Issue: Educational policy and internationally educated teachers).
Retrieved January 19, 2011, from
Ragnarsdóttir, H. & Zielińska, M. (forthcoming). The Polish school in Iceland.
Experiences of students and teachers.
Statistics Iceland. (2010). Retrieved January 19, 2011, from http://www.statice.is/
Szkoła Polska w Reykjaviku/Polish school in Reykjavik. (2010). Personnel. Retrieved
May 24, 2010, from http://www.polskaszkola.is/