From Sweden's world-leading startup ecosystem to Finland's vibrant telecommunications industry, the countries of the Nordic region of Europe have earned a strong reputation for consistently standing at the forefront of innovation and new digital technologies. With some of the highest rates of internet penetration and computer literacy in the world, Iceland is no exception.
Now with the help of the BBC micro:bit, the Icelandic government is hoping to take the next step to enshrine core digital and computing skills into their education system. Following the example set in the UK, Icelandic high school students aged 11 to 12 years old will each receive a micro:bit of their own - allowing them to gain hands-on experience in coding and programming electronic devices.
We recently caught up with Illugi Gunnarsson, Iceland's Minister of Education, Science and Culture and the architect of the micro:bit Iceland initiative. He explained how the micro:bit first caught his attention, why cultivating digital skills is essential to Iceland's economic future and what the reaction from students and educators means for the future of the project...
On recognising micro:bit as a viable project for the Icelandic Education System
"I had been thinking for some time about what we could do to introduce programming skills into our school system. There are many obstacles to this, one of which being the challenge of educating and preparing the teachers for this change in our national curriculum. The micro:bit presented an opportunity for teachers to harness the enthusiasm of their students and let them steer the learning experience, rather than simply being told what to do and how to do it. When you focus on heavily managed, top-down projects, the chances of things going wrong are actually quite high. But when you go bottom-up and allow the students to guide their own learning - which the micro:bit allows you to do - there's a greater probability of success."
On providing the necessary resources to make the micro:bit a success
"It was very important to us that teachers who wanted to use the micro:bit had access to the right support. In the first instance, the Directory of Education provided extensive learning materials on their website. We also made an alliance with some local tech companies, who agreed to run workshops for the teachers and provide them with additional materials that they could use in the classroom. By involving these companies at a grass roots level, we achieved uptake from more than 50% of Icelandic schools.
We also enlisted the services of Iceland's national broadcaster. They were very enthusiastic about the project, having one year before launched an initiative called 'Children's Radio', which focused on providing learning materials on a dedicated platform that children could easily engage with. This concept of children's television became a platform for programming education. It's been highly successful - their computing and programming resources is becoming more frequently visited than their most popular Disney shows.
On hopes for the future of the micro:bit project...
Through the micro:bit project we have been able to engage many more of our teachers and students in programming than before. Now we want to start introducing it more forcefully into the national curriculum and integrate it into other learning areas. It's not just about learning programming for its own sake - it's also important for us to connect it to subjects like science, mathematics and the arts. I look forward to seeing the micro:bit continue to play an integral role in all of those things."