Why Iceland Evaluates Its Students' Self-esteem

What American schools might learn from researchers in Iceland about how testing not only literacy and math, but the emotional lives of children.

What American schools might learn from researchers in Iceland about how to test not only literacy and math skills, but the emotional lives of children.

Over the last few years, Iceland has gone from economic boom to bust and is back on the upswing. All of these rapid changes have had drastic effects on lifestyle, which everyone assumed would trickle down to the well-being of the nation's children. Sadly, it's historically been difficult to track.

Luckily, since Iceland is in the European Economic Area as well as an OECD member, every three years member countries are required to take part in PISA, a standardized set of questions that test a student's ability and capacity to continue learning throughout life. In addition to testing academic abilities like literacy and math, it also tests factors such as enjoyment of reading and self-worth, among many other things.

This is a great tool to get a baseline and compare between nations, but it suffers from other issues. Namely, that only 15-year-olds take the test and do so at the end of the school year. In Iceland, as in many countries, this is the age at which they are finishing compulsory
education and move from compulsory education to college level. Any major issues found in the months after testing are no longer applicable because those students are long gone, making intervention and change difficult to manage.

We have been focusing on closing the feedback loop between discovering problems and intervention. Taking a page from the business world, we looked at how many companies are designing and building a product through several small iterative cycles rather than a long and drawn out one. Having many smaller cycles of development has plenty of advantages, but the
main one is that problems are spotted early and can be addressed sooner.

Using this approach, we built software that allows participating schools in Iceland to upload their student list at the beginning of the school year and each month, we randomly select a smaller representative set and administer a short online survey. Each school is able to get a data point on their progress in engagement of students, their well-being and school ethos, as well as compare themselves to a national average within Iceland.

So far, the results have been amazing. Previously, let's say a school had a bullying problem and might might think their situation was typical—that boys will be boys and girls will be girls. Now, schools can see how much of a bullying problem they really do have, compare it to the average, and see how it develops over time. The next step then becomes instituting policies to reduce problems.

Along with each data point, we are able to break down the information in further detail. Once a critical mass of students have taken the survey to make it both anonymous and statistically robust, we break down the information by gender, grade, and gender within grade. For instance, boys' enjoyment of sports constantly stays high, whereas girls' interest declines with age and while boys' self-esteem says high across all grade levels, for girls it tends to drop dramatically.

This information has also proven to be extremely valuable when it comes to deciding how school funds are to be spent. Recently, to address the problem of boys underperforming in school, the simple answer has been to throw more money at the problem. While this is certainly a noble solution, what is missed in the finding is that levels of anxiety, depression,
and bullying are much, much higher in girls than in boys, but because it isn't measured as a GPA on a report card, it's commonly overlooked. An entire generation of young women is leaving compulsory school with low morale, but no one is paying attention. Possible efforts to increase students' sense of belonging within school will not only cost less but also result in fewer cases of bullying. Knowing how the different psychometric values connect and tie together allows you to see the bigger picture.

This is the third school year where we have been running this survey in Iceland. As more and more schools use the system, the better the results become. As schools self-evaluate and improve, the national average also increases, putting more pressure on lagging schools to improve the quality of life for students in their institutions. In the end, students are the real winners as the quality of the schools steadily improves.

Illustration by Junyi Wu

Brian Suda, based in Reykjavik, Iceland, is part of a small company called Skólapúlsinn, which focuses on educational testing and research. His own little patch of internet is where many of his past projects and crazy ideas can be found.

via The Howard Stern Show / YouTube

Former Secretary of State, first lady, and winner of the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton, sat own for an epic, two-and-a--half hour interview with Howard Stern on his SiriusXM show Wednesday.

She was there to promote "The Book of Gutsy Women," a book about heroic women co-written with her daughter, Chelsea Clinton.

In the far-reaching conversation, Clinton and the self-proclaimed "King of All Media" and, without a doubt, the best interviewer in America discussed everything from Donald Trump's inauguration to her sexuality.

Keep Reading Show less

Offering parental leave for new fathers could help close the gender gap, removing the unfair "motherhood penalty" women receive for taking time off after giving birth. However, a new study finds that parental leave also has a pay gap. Men are less likely to take time off, however, when they do, they're more likely to get paid for it.

A survey of 2,966 men and women conducted by New America found that men are more likely to receive paid parental leave. Over half (52%) of fathers had fully paid parental leave, and 14% of fathers had partially paid parental leave. In comparison, 33% of mothers had fully paid parental leave and 19% had partially paid parental leave.

Keep Reading Show less

Bans on plastic bags and straws can only go so far. Using disposable products, like grabbing a plastic fork when you're on the go, can be incredibly convenient. But these items also contribute to our growing plastic problem.

Fortunately, you can cut down on the amount of waste you produce by cutting down on disposable products. And even more fortunately, there are sustainable (and cute) replacements that won't damage the environment.

Coconut bowls


Who says sustainable can't also be stylish? These cute coconut bowls were handmade using reclaimed coconuts, making each piece one of a kind. Not only are they organic and biodegradable, but they're also durable, in case your dinner parties tend to get out of hand. The matching ebony wood spoons were polished with the same coconut oil as the bowls.

Cocostation Set of 2 Vietnamese Coconut Bowls and Spoons, $14.99; at Amazon

Solar powered phone charger


Why spend time looking around for an outlet when you can just harness the power of the sun? This solar powered phone charger will make sure your phone never dies as long as you can bask in the sun's rays. As an added bonus, this charger was made using eco-friendly silicone rubber. It's win-win all around.

Dizaul Solar Charger, 5000mAh Portable Solar Power Bank, $19.95; at Amazon, $19.95; at Amazon

Herb garden kit

Planter Pro

Put some green in your life with this herb planter. The kit comes with everything you need to get a garden growing, including a moisture meter that helps you determine if your herbs are getting the right amount of food to flourish. All the seeds included are certified to be non-GMO and non-hybrids, meaning you can have fresh, organic herbs right at your fingertips.

Planter Pro's Herb Garden Cedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazonedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazon

Reusable Keurig cups

K & J

Keurig cups are convenient, but they also create a ton of plastic waste. These Keurig-compatible plastic cups are an easy way to cut down on the amount of trash you create without cutting down on your caffeine. Additionally, you won't have to keep on buying K Cups, which means you'll be saving money and the environment.

K&J Reusable Filter Cups, $8.95 for a set of 4,; at Amazon

Low-flow shower head


Low-flow water fixtures can cut down your water consumption, which saves you money while also saving one of the Earth's resources. This shower head was designed with a lighter flow in mind, which means you'll be able to cut down on water usage without feeling like you're cutting down on your shower.

Speakman Low Flow Shower Head, $14.58; at Amazon

Bamboo safety razor


Instead of throwing away a disposable razor every time you shave, invest in an eco-friendly, reusable one. This unisex shaver isn't just sustainable, it's also sharp-looking, which means it would make a great gift for the holidays.

Zomchi Safety Razor, $16.99; at Amazon

The Planet