Decreasing Student Numbers Present Operational Challenges
Many rural schools across Iceland have significantly fewer students than just a couple of decades ago, RÚV reports. Shrinking class sizes are proving a challenge when it comes to providing a well-rounded education and ensuring that students have access to additional services they may require. Smaller class sizes also mean increased costs per student.
Schools across the country have been affected by the general trend of migration to the capital area for jobs and services. In many primary schools outside the Reykjavík capital area, student numbers have decreased by as much as 50%. In Hólmavík, Westfjords; Vík í Mýrdal, South Iceland; Fjallabyggð, East Iceland; and Hornarfjörður, South Iceland, there are around 40-50% fewer students than at the turn of the century. In Ísafjörður, the largest town in the Westfjords, student numbers have reduced by one third.
“If we go back to 1996, there were nearly 200 municipalities and a large number of small schools. Since then, the number of municipalities has decreased to 72,” stated Svandís Ingimundardóttir, Educational Matters Representative of the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities. There are a few rural municipalities, such as Reykjanesbær, which have grown, and where the number of students have increased, “but we know that schools have closed due to a lack of students, and last winter was the first year there was no instruction at Finnbogastaðaskóli in Árneshreppur á Ströndum because there was only one student left.”
School is not just classes
Many schools that do manage to stay open find themselves with very few students. According to data from the 2017-2018 school year, 11 schools in the country had fewer than 20 pupils. “School is more than just teaching and conversation between students and teachers,” Svandís asserted. “There is so, so much more involved in education. Just this social interaction and development which the students gets through communication with their peers.”
Besides an impoverished social environment, too few students can made it difficult to provide a well-rounded education. “Students should be offered various electives when they reach the middle school level and if there are one, two, three students then there is hardly much choice,” Svandís explains. “The students’ rights when it comes to various aspects of their education[…]diminishes with a small population.”
Services not up to standards
Icelandic regulations state that students should have access to services and professional assistance no matter where in the country they live, but the reality is often different. “For example, you don’t have access to a speech therapist weekly like you do in the capital area,” Svandís pointed out. “And that’s of course a big question that parents have to ask themselves when choosing a place of residence.” Svandís concludes, however, that the Association of Local Authorities is not worried about the development, which is simple a worldwide trend that can be addressed with systemic changes. In East Iceland, for example, improved road infrastructure has made travel between towns easier and faster.