Æskulýðsrannsóknir - við upphaf NYRIS-ráðstefnu

NYRIS Symposium
Hátíðarsal Háskóla Íslands 11. júní 1998


Our world of today is characterised by rapid changes. Nothing is the same as it was less than a decade ago when we look at the world scene and international relations. We have to adapt to those changes. It may be more difficult for those of us that grew up during the Cold War than the new and younger generation that is emerging. It is our challenge to bridge the gap between those two worlds so to speak.

Parallel to those rapid changes is the extensive technological progress of recent years. In this respect, I refer in particular to the information technology, which facilitates and enhances our opportunities in adding to and maintaining our knowledge, as well as increasing our capacity to solve problems. We constantly see new options and opportunities surfacing through less expensive and more efficient technology. Currently, we are just at the threshold of new times and will most certainly witness further changes.

Many people are concerned over society becoming increasingly dependent on technology and computers, and over the individual having less impact than before. Various sociologists have expressed totally different opinions, however, stating that in the information society the individual will become stronger and more influential.

But what can generally be said about young people to day in comparison with my generation for instance?

They are basically better educated and healthier. They are more active in the international community and travel more than my generation. In general terms, it seems that young people are more conscious of the importance of gender equality and equality between races. Still they are faced with multinational efforts being undertaken against racism and discrimination of all kinds. The speed of current social changes creates a degree of uncertainty, and some young people react to it by extreme views. Their employment opportunities are subject to great changes and it cannot be taken for granted that children wish to follow in the footsteps of their parents, as was quite common in previous years.

We need to understand and evaluate those changes increased research on young people. Research should be the foundation of all youth policies, it should not only describe the current situation but also seek explanation and clarification. The objective must certainly be for us to support young people and thereby to promote their healthy development and good education.

These views have been kept in mind in Iceland in research relating to young people and such research has greatly increased. For the past several years, national surveys on various issues in the lives of youth have been conducted in Iceland, serving as a database for several research projects. A number of projects that have been carried out have been initiated by my ministry. Some of the them are special in that they focus on the welfare and living conditions of youth, touching on a number of factors and covering a wide range of age groups of young people nation-wide.

Even though I specially mention the importance of the research projects conducted in Iceland, I want to emphasise that the nature of research and scientific work is of course in itself, international. Projects that are tackled are not confined to national boundaries or individual nations. Iceland ,s increased participation in international scientific cooperation has shown that our scientists are fully comparable to their foreign colleagues, and I can say with confidence that we have much to offer in this respect.

Iceland has participated in comprehensive international research projects, many of which have focused on young people, including a study on the status of Icelandic primary- and secondary-school students, for example, TIMSS. The results of this research have attracted much attention in Iceland, and it may be assumed that more Icelanders are familiar with this international abbreviation than most others.

Strengthening science-related education
The participation of young people in education and research is an important link between the present and the future. It is clear that the livelihood of every nation is based on the utilisation of the human resources not least in young people, which also create new employment opportunities for them and are the turning point which will determine the future competitiveness of every nation.
Through carefully planned measures, my ministry has contributed to increasing the participation of young people in research and industry, for example, through the establishment of two funds especially intended to strengthen young people in research. One of the funds is the Innovation Student Fund whose principal objective is to strengthen co-operation between firms and institutions in their recruitment of young people for practical research projects during the summer months. The other fund is the Icelandic Research Fund for Graduate Students. The objectives of this fund are to fuel advanced studies at the university level, strengthen Icelandic research and increase co-operation with parties outside of the university.

What these two funds have in common is their achievements in co-operation with firms and institutions regarding contributions to research by young people.

New education policy
In order to develop talented researchers and scientists of the future, it is important that the basis of their education be good and solid. Recent years have seen comprehensive changes being made in the Icelandic education system. Their purpose is to meet the needs of young people and better prepare them for the future. We intend to take further strides in this regard. One of the biggest projects undertaken by me as Minister of Education has been the formulation of a new education policy titled &A still better school. Their right - our duty 8. The new policy contains a large number of focal points which are in accordance with the results of youth research. Among the objectives of the policy are an increased emphasis on independent students, stronger individuals who say &NO 8 to drugs, an assessment of the special needs of individuals through detailed analysis, enabling students to complete a more extensive curriculum over a shorter period of time, an emphasis on the students , comprehension of science, the use of information technology as a tool in all subjects at the same time as increasingly focusing on solid foundations in Icelandic and mathematics. Additionally, I would like to mention the new policy ,s objective of providing Icelandic students with language education on a par with the most stringent international standards.
All of these factors aim at the objective of facilitating Icelandic youth to become increasingly capable of making use of the opportunities available to them in modern society at the same time as they are taught how to avoid the pitfalls found in the same society.

You have come to Iceland to attend the sixth NYRIS Symposium on youth in transition and we welcome you all. It is important for researchers and others engaged in the affairs of young people to meet at seminars like this to exchange knowledge and to lay the foundations for continued research. The work and efforts by NYRIS are commendable as the organisation provides the main venue of collaboration between Nordic researchers and other parties working on similar matters outside of the Nordic countries.

Working with young people and conducting research on youth can be sensitive. When I communicate with young people, I sense their optimism and anticipation rather than the pessimism and negativity, which frequently characterise the debate about young people today. In conclusion, I would like to encourage you, who deal with the affairs of youth, not only to focus on the negative factors we may see in young people but also on the positive sides. Give them confidence and self-esteem instead of only discussing increasing drug abuse, violence, unemployment and other matters, which they must, however, be taught to avoid. Your role is not only to analyse the problems but also to point out the opportunities for youth.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to congratulate those who have organized the symposium and express my appreciation for their efforts. I hope the stay of our foreign guests will be both pleasant and educational. I know that your aim is to do your best on behalf of young people. I wish you best of luck in your endeavour.