Healthy and powerful gender self image

Children at Hjalli model schools receive training in all human qualities as we believe that all children should have all the possibilities in the world regardless of their gender.
— Margrét Pála Ólafsdóttir

The Hjalli model is a teaching method for kindergarten and elementary school, created and founded by Margrét Pála Ólafsdóttir in 1989. It is now an independent scholarly organisation, Hjalli Ltd, which operates 14 kindergartens and three elementary schools around Iceland with service contracts in 11 municipalities. The total number of children in our schools is over 2000 and around 450 employees. 


Iceland ranks first for gender equality worldwide.

The past nine years Iceland has ranked first for gender equality worldwide regarding women’s economic participation, educational attainment, health and political empowerment according to The Global Gender Gap Report published by The World Economic Forum. This global report ranks all countries on a 0-to-1 scale, and Iceland is “the frontrunner” for the ninth year in a row. Ranking at the top is a confirmation of Iceland´s successes achieved in recent decades and should inspire the world to continue to work towards complete equality of status, influence and power of men and women. 


The Founder


Margrét Pála Ólafsdóttir


Margrét Pála Ólafsdóttir is an Icelandic pioneer pedagogue, educator and philanthropist. She is a kindergarten and elementary teacher with further studies in school management, an M.Ed. in pedagogy and education and an MBA degree in business administration. Margrét Pála has written numerous books and articles on gender equality, pedagogy and education, both for parents and academics. She is also well known as a consultant, lecturer and analyst and has been granted numerous awards and recognition for her work, including The Knight‘s Cross of the Icelandic Order of the Falcon from the President of Iceland for innovation in education. 



Hjallastefnan founder Margrét Pála Ólafsdóttir presents at Reykjavík TEDx.

Margrét Pála presents her ideas about educating young children, based on reinforcing each gender in specific areas. She asks: "Are we betraying both girls and boys when the school system is based on the average needs of children instead of meeting each sex as it is?"




Our teachers emphasize original and
unusual projects and new experiences
to heighten the development of
the brain at the child‘s important
period of development.

The Hjalli model promotes a system where the children work in small single sex groups for the biggest part of their school day. This serves to liberate them from traditional gender-roles and stereotypical behaviour, and to make sure that girls and boys get even attention and equal opportunities in the classroom. The children receive training in all human qualities and the focus is on empowering gender through compensation work so they become independent and self-assertive individuals, but not least so they gain a positive, tolerant and compassionate disposition towards themselves and others.



upon which the Hjalli pedagogy's foundation rests


Equality in kindness and joy

Our aim is equality for all people. That is what we desire. That is why our children work in small single-sex groups for the biggest part of their school day; to make sure that girls and boys get even attention and equal opportunities in the classroom. School uniforms ensure that all the children are part of the same team, which gives them a sense of belonging.


Creativity in positivity and resilience

Our world needs new ideas and new approaches. To encourage imaginative and innovative thinking, we use open-ended materials such as homemade Play- Doh and plasticine, wooden blocks, paper and crafts materials, water and sand and blankets and pillows. Such materials enhance the children‘s creativity that prompts original problem solving, collaboration and resilience. Our teachers emphasise original and unusual projects and new experiences to heighten the development of the brain at the child‘s significant period of development.


Democracy in respect and freedom

Our ethos and school society revolve around the human rights of children. That is why the children cultivate respectful communication through positive discipline, so all children enjoy equality. To establish this, there are daily choose-meetings for playtime and regular democracy conferences. All children must speak in front of a group and express their wishes, opinions and ideas positively.



We make sure boys and girls recieve equal attention.

The gender-based curriculum is a manifestation of the Hjalli model‘s vision of gender equality, and it‘s effort to meet the different needs of individuals. Due to inhibiting gender roles and gender moulding which the society determines on the basis of sex, the Hjalli model trains all children, regardless of their gender, in all human qualities through courses of the gender-based curriculum. Each course runs for four weeks at a time as focused curriculum and is reinforced at the forefront throughout the child‘s entire education. 


Social Qualities

Course 1: Respect 
Key concepts are order,  behaviour,  manners and  presentation.

Course 3: Communication 
Key concepts are  acceptance,  open-mindedness,  helpfulness and solidarity.

Course 5: Friendship
Key concepts are companionship, compassion, warmth and kindness.


Individual Qualities

Course 2: Independence
Key concepts are empowerment, confidence, self-reliance and expression.

Course 4: Positivity
Key concepts are assertiveness, candour, optimism and joy.

Course 6: Courage
Key concepts are bravery, strength, action and initiative.



The Hjalli Model and Margrét Pála Ólafsdóttir in the news and media


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Frequently Asked Questions

We often get asked questions about our schools. Here are some answers to the most common ones. If you have a quesetion and don't see an answser here, feel welcome to contact us and ask us yourself.

I am curious to know more about your system, e.g. why do you have gender divided school groups?

To promote equality in the classroom, we work with single-sex groups for the most significant part of the day and mixed settings the rest of the time. When the children are in single-sex groups, we work on liberating them from traditional gender roles and stereotypic behaviour. We want to make sure that both girls and boys get even attention and equal opportunities.

When the children are in mixed settings, we make sure the experience between the children is positive, that they collaborate in projects and show each other mutual respect. It is very important that they have a good time together, feeling equally strong and capable.

When the children are in single-sex settings, they do compensation work, which means we strengthen the gender in characteristics that respectively need working on and strengthening. We believe that the girls, generally, need more encouragement in speaking out, taking up space and standing by themselves. The boys, on the other hand, might need to be encouraged to express themselves, both about their emotions and also when they get into disagreements. The boys generally need to work on their social behaviours like connections with others and expression.

Having single sex groups is not an objective in itself, but a means to work towards equality.

Why are there no traditional toys in your nurseries?

We sometimes hear people wonder why we do not have traditional toys and whether we are just trying to be eccentric. Some even think we consider toys bad for children. Far from it. What we do like is to stretch the children‘s imagination by using open-ended materials. Wooden blocks e.g. can be used for almost anything. They can be a tea set, roads and cars, the solar system...whatever you want. A toy car is more or less a toy car, and a doll is a doll. It does not leave as much scope for the imagination even though roleplaying is wonderful and dolls and cars are fun.

What it boils down to is this. It is desirable for the children to play with different materials at school than the ones they have at home and open-ended materials enhance the children‘s creativity, collaboration, and it prompts original problem-solving. The material comes to life in the children‘s hands.

Could you explain to me why the Hjalli model is pro-school uniforms?

From the age of 6 months to 10 years old, the children at Hjalli nurseries and schools wear uniforms. We love it, and we will explain why.

We primarily look at our school uniforms as workwear. Our uniforms are comfortable to wear and easy to put on as they consist of sweatpants or cotton leggings and tee shirts, hoodies or fleece cardigans. The children and teachers do not have to worry about the clothes getting dirty, spilling paint or food on them, or playing outside. Even if the clothes do get stains that can‘t be properly removed, there are no worries as they are workwear.

When all the children are wearing the same uniforms, they belong to the same team. This gives them a strong sense of belonging. It also reduces the level of peer pressure to wear specific brands and fashion styles and of course, the socioeconomic distinction is removed, making the social infrastructure more balanced and equal. At last but not least, our school uniforms are gender-neutral to promote body confidence rather than fitting a certain gender stereotype.

There is also less friction and struggle when getting dressed in the morning, as the attire is already decided upon, and our parents love it.

One might argue that uniforms limit the children's expression. That is debatable, and some people feel strongly about that. We, on the other hand, believe that when the clothes are taken out of the equation, the children focus on their abilities, become stronger personalities and their individuality is enhanced. Vision, focus, integrity and courage are some of the traits of a good leader. It has little to do with what she/he wears, though there is nothing wrong with being a good dresser.

What does the word "hjalli" mean?

The word "hjalli" is an old Icelandic word and has been used in different contexts throughout time. It is sometimes used metaphorically when getting around a difficult obstacle in life. In some circumstances it can mean to break taboos, sort of being a free spirit. Hjalli also is connected to the women‘s jobs of old times, when they used to dry the fish by hanging it up on wooden racks that were called fiskihjallar.

What about children who don’t identify with their assigned gender?

First and foremost we want to mention that in our single sex groups, nothing is boyish or girlish anymore as they are not constantly seeing the opposite sex in different roles from their own (that can be so discouraging when it comes to trying out new things). Secondly; school uniforms are unisex and we have no traditional toys (which are always gender biased). In both groups they participate in the same activities, so somehow our carefully planned single-sex settings "de-gender" everything. Thirdly, in our experience, a child with "nonbinary" gender identity has simply made their own choice if they want to be in the all-girls' or all-boys' department.