The richness of Icelandic children’s lexicon, as well as their level of comprehension of their own language, has been dangerously decreasing during the past hundred years.
In 2015, it was calculated through the so-called PISA test (Programme for International Student Assessment) that Iceland had fallen below the Scandinavian average when it comes to text comprehension among children under 15 years of age. While the test didn’t record a big difference between the years 2006, 2012 and 2015, the conclusion drawn from the data was that the number of children who had difficulties in reading, evaluating and interpreting a text had gone from 15% in the year 2000 to 22% in the year 2015.
We need more time
When interviewed by RÚV, the president of the Icelandic Teachers’ Union Ragnar Þór Pétursson stated that the reasons for this are various and can be attributed both to a change in parental attitudes and behaviour, as well as to the excessive social reliance on English.
Ragnar has criticised local institutions for assigning too little time to teaching in Icelandic in the curriculum in elementary schools. However, what’s really saddening is that while Icelandic children spend a lot of time using technological devices that are mostly in English, parents don’t seem to take enough time to talk to them about what they see and read online. “I have been a teacher for 20 years and I can tell you that children have never lived in better conditions than now,” Ragnar says. “But we don’t give children enough of what really matters—time.”
An Icelandic digital society
In addition, Ragnar considers high taxes on children’s books another reason behind the problem. The high prices on translated books in particular can deter people from buying them on a regular basis, making it a luxury to be indulged in on special occasions such as Christmas.
Considering how much time children spend online, however, an interesting solution might involve the implementation of Icelandic in the tech world, including the material used to teach computer science and programming.
Ragnar admits there is a lot of work to do, but he’s optimistic when it comes to preserving Icelandic. “We are a bit like settlers in the new world of digital technology,” he explains. “We know that settling in a new place can be confusing, but once the settlement is complete it’s absolutely necessary to build a new Icelandic digital society. This is our task over the next few years.”