Iceland closes the gap for early childhood, increasing investment for children
The Icelandic government, consistently top performers in the education equality stakes, have taken further steps to demonstrate the value of the early years this week by announcing the construction of new preschools, the renovation of existing preschools, and an increase in funding for the early years, amounting to ISK 5.2 billion over the next five years.
Newly funded places will support all children from twelve months of ages to attend an early childhood education and care (ECEC) service by the end of 2023. 14 new sites will be built to accommodate the increase in demand, with integrated ECEC sites at some popular city schools.
As part of the changes, the Government will extend maternity/paternity leave to twelve months, up from the nine months currently offered, further cementing the countries position as the most gender equitable in the world (as measured by the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index) and the best place in the world to be a woman. For comparison, Australia ranks in 35th place, behind the United Kingdom, New Zealand and The Philippines and Mozambique.
Intake to the funded ECEC services will happen twice a year, in autumn and spring, with children being admitted at other times of the year if vacancies exist. The funding will also extend to privately owned centres (known as self employed preschools in Iceland) “in close cooperation with the operators concerned”
The Icelandic Government reported that sites would be asked to increase their numbers to accommodate the increase in demand, saying “Work is being done on the size of preschools and it is assumed that the development of preschools in the coming years should look to expand units. There are now 91 children in every preschool, but are based on new kindergartens that count 6-10 divisions or 120-200 children under one roof.”
As in the Australian context, the steering committee behind the proposed changes noted that the main challenge is around qualified staff to run the programs, suggestion that the changes should be implemented alongside “targeted measures in the city to improve their working environment.”
The steering committee’s final report can be read here