January 13, 2015

Discussing Educational Reform in Iceland

Following her participation in the Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellowship (BFTF) this past summer, Unnur Lárusdóttir demonstrated her leadership capabilities by organizing a conference on education in her home country, Iceland. When describing the impact of that experience, Unnur says: “Last summer I attended the Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellowship, sponsored by the U.S. Embassy and held at Purdue University in Indiana. My time there inspired me and awakened a desire to create something that would benefit society as a whole.”
Unnur organized this conference in response to the Government of Iceland’s plans to shorten secondary education from four years to three years. Unnur noticed that there was not much dialogue on the topic, and she wanted to expose her peers to the positive and negative ramifications of this new policy. Over 200 guests attended the conference, including students, leaders from local universities, journalists, and high ranking members of Parliament. Guest speakers from various areas in the educational system discussed educational policy in Iceland, giving attendees a greater understanding of the proposed changes. A question-and-answer session fueled numerous discussions on the topic, giving an opportunity for many people to share their thoughts.
The highly successful conference was highlighted through newspaper interviews, online media outlets, radio interviews, and television appearances. In her media engagements, Unnur has constantly referred to BFTF as inspiring her to organize this conference. Unnur’s achievements have inspired other alumni in the community, and many have come together to see what they can create as a team. 
At only 17 years old, Unnur is being recognized as an outstanding young leader in her community. Through organizing, implementing, and hosting this conference, she has proven her hard work and dedication to leadership. She has ignited a nationwide discussion on the topic of education by addressing an important subject no other scholar had opened up for debate. Her efforts have enhanced opportunities for Icelandic citizens to discuss important matters such as education reform openly and constructively.
Each month, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ (ECA) Alumni Affairs Division, which supports alumni as they build on their exchange experiences, recognizes one outstanding alumnus or alumna. Unnur Larusdottir is this month’s outstanding alumna, and her work will be recognized throughout January on the International Exchange Alumni website, ECA’s official website which serves more than one million Department-sponsored exchange alumni worldwide.