"Guidance professionals deserve all the support they can get"

Programmes Euroguidance Lifelong guidance Internationalisation
At the brink of her career, Dóra Stefánsdóttir is looking back to decades in international guidance. Dóra works for the Icelandic Centre for Research (Rannís), in charge of the Erasmus+ programme and various international projects. She has experience also from the EU level coordination of guidance and vocational work in Africa. Dóra admires guidance professionals for their demanding work.
Kuva Islantilaisesta maisemasta
Dora Stefansdottir in photo

Dóra, what is your relationship with guidance?

Most of my professional life, I have been involved in education and training. I have been the manager of Euroguidance in Iceland for some twenty years and have had the pleasure to work with guidance counsellors, but I am not trained as a guidance counsellor. Their work is very demanding and they need all the support they can get.

Rannís also functions as a one stop shop for a large group of institutions which are looking for support. You could say that the closest I come to guidance is helping people who come to our Information Office for Studies Abroad. There are many questions they need the answer to when thinking about whether to study abroad. It is not a small decision to leave your family and friends behind and take a leap into the unknown. We try to give them information which they can work with rather than advice, and I admire greatly information services in many countries which give clear and precise info.

I have been told that you worked both in Africa and in Greece?

Yes, I worked in Africa for six years in total, four in Namibia and two on the Cabo Verde islands. I was working for the Icelandic International Development Agency. In both cases, education was a part of my work and I enjoyed it immensely. In Cabo Verde it was mainly geared towards women, who often lacked even basic education. I worked with a local women’s association which was teaching them to read and write but also to make clothes and to take care of their children. The children were the sole responsibility of the mother and the grandmother and they needed to be able to bring them with them to the social hall where the classes took place. The women took turns looking after the children while the others learned and there was often a lot of noise and fun.

In Namibia it was the education of fishermen which fell under my project. When the country became independent, the foreign fishing fleet which had previously fished everything, finally left. There were no Namibians with the necessary skills to take over and the first officers of their research vessel all came from Iceland. They needed to train the men (no women were among then first crew) who worked on their research vessel. It was quite difficult since they had no language in common. It was a question of endless patience showing them over and over again how to manage. After I left Namibia, Iceland and Norway joined hands in opening a fisheries school in Namibia and one or two men (there were no women in this first crew) of this first crew managed to get a certificate as navigation officers.

In Greece I worked for four years at Cedefop, the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training. My job consisted mostly of gathering information about vocational training in different countries. It was very interesting to see how different it is from one country to another and the goal to lift the barriers from one country to another seems to be as unobtainable now as when I was working there.

You mainly work with Nordic/Baltic projects these days?

That is correct. I am in charge of Nordplus Nordic Languages which offers grants for cooperation in all the Nordic languages. All the Nordic languages are small on the world front and we need to assist each other in keeping them alive. It is a great pleasure to see the interest of a wide host of partners in creating new learning methods and material accessible to everyone.

I have also started working on a new project dealing with education towards sustainable development. It forms a part of the vision of the Nordic Council of Ministers to make the Nordic countries the most integrated and sustainable region in the world by 2030. The plan is to make education towards sustainability (and not education about sustainability) an integrated part of learning at all levels in the Nordic countries. We will work with a large number of institutions, for instance universities providing training for teachers, teachers’ associations and NGOs. Very important are also the young people, they will be the biggest group who will receive the training. What do they want and how do they want it delivered? We are just starting and there are so many questions to be answered.

But now you will be leaving, what do you intend to do?

By the end of April, I will start my third age, i.e., go on a retirement. My main problem will be to have enough time and health to do everything I would like to. I dream about travelling, translating or writing, enjoy nature and last, but by no means least, to study. There are many subjects I would like to emerge myself into, from literature to arctic development, not to mention learning a new language or two. Arabic sounds fascinating and so does Persian. Maybe I need to see a guidance counsellor….