Icelandic Educational System for Tourist Guides by Stefan Helgi Valsson

The Iceland Tourist Guide School was founded in 1976. The first graduation was in May the following year. The objective of the school is to train students to become professional tourist guides who meet the industry's standards of excellent quality. In the past, the school has focused on training guides to conduct coach tours around the whole country. However, demand has been created for training more specialised guides for the industry, namely adventure and hiking guides as well as local guides. The school has plans to offer a special course for adventure travel guides in the near future and is exploring the possibilities of distance learning.

The school follows a curriculum that is authorised by the Icelandic Ministry of Education. Much work has been done over the years to streamline the course to the industry's needs for quality guiding. The Ministry of Tourism, the Icelandic Tourist Board, the Icelandic Tourist Guide Association and the Icelandic Tourism Business Association have all had a say in developing and approving the school's curriculum.

Entrance requirements for the Iceland Tourist Guide School include three clearly defined criteria. The prospective student must be at least 21 years of age at the start of the course, have university entrance exemption and meet our oral language proficiency standards. Before being admitted, prospective students are interviewed and examined in an oral language test by two examiners. Many of our examiners and trainers originally come from countries abroad, such as Ireland, Canada, Germany, Sweden, Norway and Spain. Further, some of them are professional educators and translators.

Students studying at the Iceland Tourist Guide School are eligible for receiving a student loan from the Iceland Student Loan Fund like other students in Iceland studying at tertiary-level.

Course duration is one year and includes 444 contact hours. Exams and field trips are in addition. Classes are taught at night, usually from 17:30 to 22:00 in the evening - Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights over 26 weeks in total. Examination period is in addition. Some Thursdays we have exams and every second Saturday we organise a field trip. The field trips during the first term include whale watching, four museums in Reykjavik and some churches, the Botanical Garden, and a full-day geological field trip to the surrounding area. In the second term there are seven practical field trips, five for training and two for exams. At the end of the course there is a supervised six-day field trip around Iceland.

Subjects include; tourist guiding techniques (presentation skills and group psychology, etc.), geology/geography, history, industries and farming, tourism, society and culture, arts, botany, ornithology, mammals in Iceland, 20 hour first aid course, area interpretation and presentation skills in the student's elected foreign language.

Course evaluation is strict. Students must pass all individual subject exams with a mark of minimum 7 out of 10. At the end of the first term, students have to pass a language exam that covers the content of the subjects taught in the first term. At the end of the second term, students have to pass an oral language exam covering the subjects of the area interpretation in the classroom, and pass two practical oral exams in a coach. The coach oral exams include a four-hour city tour - and an eight-hour tour to Gullfoss waterfall, Geysir geothermal area and the Parliament Plains (Singvellir). During the exam trip the student's presentation is recorded on a tape to be graded by two examiners. Field trips are compulsory and the overall attendance in the course must exceed 80%.

The final evaluation of students takes place during a 6-day tour around Iceland where they practice their presentation skills, guided by a qualified and experienced person.

The school capitalises on the professional knowledge of about 50 individuals in any given year. This year we have ten subject lecturers and ten language trainers in their respective languages. Further, we receive a wide range of guest lecturers from the industry who offer their professional knowledge and advice. During the language exams we call on ten examiners to team up with the language trainers.

I am pleased to inform, that interest in studying at the Iceland Tourist Guide School is high. This great interest in the school's programme is a direct result of satisfied tour operators that demand their tourist guides graduate from our programme. Reinforcing this demand is a wage agreement whereby tour operators commit themselves to hire qualified tourist guides. The wage agreement is very important for tourist guides, as here in Iceland no law protects the guiding profession. To date, the school has graduated over seven hundred students of which about five hundred are members of the Icelandic Tourist Guide Association. At the start of this school year we had fifty students.

 

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