In Iceland, the Directorate of Education recommends that students learn to draw individual letters first and how to join them later, following a modern cursive style with clear renaissance reminiscences.
In Iceland, the education system is divided into four levels: pre-primary, primary and lower secondary, upper secondary, and higher. Of these, only primary, comprising grades 1–7 (6–13 years old), and lower secondary, comprising grades 8–10 (14–16 years old), are compulsory. The main language of instruction is Icelandic, and English is commonly taught as second language. Danish or other Nordic languages may be additionally offered in some schools.
Mennta- og barnamálaráðuneytið, or the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, is responsible for the implementation of relevant legislation, preparing curriculum guides, and planning for all school levels. Under its aegis, the Menntamálastofnun (MMS), or the Directorate of Education, provides all educational material for primary and lower secondary schools, along with supervising and conducting evaluations of the educational system.
The latest edition of the national curriculum, published in 2014, requires that at the end of fourth grade, students must “write all the letters, write clearly and understandably”. Handwriting teaching in Iceland happens during grades 1–3 (6–9 years old), and books by the MMS adhere to a progressive system, based on simplified modern italic styles. According to this system, students should first be introduced to the lowercase letters of Grunnskrift, or the initial model. These are simplified and unconnected letters, slightly slanted, and with exit strokes. This should be followed by uppercase letters of the same model. Finally, in the third grade (8–9 years old), students learn Tengiskrift, or joined letters.
Teachers are free to decide what method of handwriting instruction to follow, which model(s) to teach and what resources to use. As a result, this progressive system is not consistently followed in schools. In many cases, educators only teach the Grunnskrift, or the initial model, assuming that letter joins will appear naturally in students’ handwriting as it matures. A 2022 report by the MMS that documents a meeting of teachers from around the country indicates that while there is agreement that there is no national policy of handwriting teaching and insufficient time earmarked for its instruction in classrooms, there is no consensus among educators about the benefits of cursive writing with joined letters, and some believe that students should have the freedom to develop their own personal handwriting.
Samples of traditional Icelandic handwriting models, based on the English Roundhand and the American Palmer, were adopted in Icelandic schools between 1890 and 1950. Briem, G. SE. Handwriting models: an Icelandic manual, 1883. Iceland: Operina, 2007.
Like elsewhere, the importance of handwriting as a discipline began to decline in Iceland towards the end of the 20th century. From the 1970s, it ceased to be a separate school subject, and was subsumed within the teaching of Icelandic; and by the late 1990s, a primary school teacher would receive less than fifteen hours of specific preparation to teach handwriting.
Modern cursive writing in Iceland
Since the 1980s, the style of handwriting most commonly used for teaching is the modern cursive, and it features in several handwriting textbooks published by the the Menntamálastofnun (MMS). Among MMS’s publications from 2022 that use this style, Skrift 1–7 by Björgvin Jósteinsson et al (first published in 1985), and Ítalíuskrift by Freyja Bergsveinsdóttir and Gunnlaug S. E. Briem (first published in 2013) are the most adopted by schools and teachers.
This style developed in Iceland in response to declining quality of handwriting among students, who until the late 1970s were mostly being taught using continuous cursive writing with loops. Inspired by the success of italic models in countries such as England, a group of teachers in Iceland started an experimental programme for handwriting instruction that used simplified italic writing as its basis. Among the members of this group was type designer Gunnlaugur S.E. Briem. He prepared, pro bono, a new typeface family for handwriting teaching based on Renaissance italics, and the group financed the publication of instruction manuals that used it. The manuals and Briem’s typeface family were freely distributed from 1985 onwards, and are still available online. This work was well-received in Iceland, as well as abroad, and earned the support of foreign experts, such as Rosemary Sassoon and Nan Jay Barchowsky.