Grindavík Children Divided Among Iceland’s Schools

Grindavík

The primary school children of Grindavík are divided among 73 schools in 27 municipalities. Before the town was evacuated due to volcanic eruptions and seismic activity, they were all in the same school, Grindavík primary school.

Heimildin reports that while 225 children study in replacement schools established in Reykjavík, 87 of them now study in Reykjanesbær, 59 in other Reykjavík schools, 28 in Kópavogur, 25 in Garðabær, 25 in Árborg, 22 in Hafnarfjörður and many more in schools across the southwest region.

Minority in replacement schools

After the natural disasters, four replacement schools were established in Reykjavík so that the children could continue their studies with their teachers from Grindavík and classmates. The schools are located in Hvassaleitisskóli, Laugalækjarskóli, Ármúli and the headquarters of the Football Association of Iceland (KSÍ) by Laugardalsvöllur field. Some 40% of the children continue their studies in these replacement schools.

Upper secondary school students, who are residents of Grindavík, are now in 14 different schools in 9 municipalities, with most of them in Suðurnes Comprehensive College. Preschool children are in 46 schools across 16 municipalities.

Effects on the children

The Ministry of Education and Children said that the effects of the disasters on the lives of Grindavík children are severe and unpredictable, and can manifest in challenges related to educational and recreational activities. “Grindavík inhabitants have faced uncertainties about their residency over the last few months and this has inevitably affected a group of Grindavík children who have been forced to switch schools a few times since November 10,” a response from the ministry read.

New Cultural Hub Opens in Úlfarsárdalur Neighbourhood

Úlfarsárdalur swimming pool Dagur B. Eggertsson mayor

The City of Reykjavík’s seventh library and eighth swimming pool have officially opened at a brand-new cultural hub in the Úlfarsárdalur neighbourhood in eastern Reykjavík. The hub also contains a new preschool and elementary school. While most city libraries are open for around eight hours a day, the new library will have the same opening hours as the neighbouring pool: from 6:30 AM to 10:00 PM on weekdays and from 9:00 AM to 10:00 PM on weekends.

Úlfarsárdalur is one of Reykjavík’s newer neighbourhoods and it could be said that it is still developing. Some residents have waited years for the services that the cultural hub now offers. Reykjavík Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson attended the opening and even took a dip in the new pool. “It’s just wonderful, really great and unbelievable to have it connected with the library and cultural centre, fun to chat with people in the neighbourhood and feel their joy, and the kids’,” Dagur told RÚV reporters.

Reykjavíkurborg. Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson opening the new cultural hub in Úlfarsárdalur along with the neighbourhood’s younger residents.

The new buildings spread across some 18,000 square metres that house not only a library and swimming pool, but a preschool, primary school, athletics centre, and more. The library, for example, also contains a fully-equipped recording studio and the school houses a youth centre.

 

City Council Considers Cutting Meat from School Cafeterias

Reykjavík Housekeeping School Kitchen

Reykjavík City Council is considering reducing or eliminating meat in the city’s school and municipal cafeterias, RÚV reports. City Councillor Lif Magneudóttir says the move would be in line with the city’s goals to reduce its environmental impact. An open letter from the Icelandic Vegan Society calling for the elimination of animal products on school menus has city councillors, parents, and farmers debating what’s best for the environment – and children’s health.

Vegans call for change

The Icelandic Vegan Society published an open letter last week addressed to Iceland’s Minister for the Environment, as well as the government and local councils across the country calling for eliminating or significantly reducing animal-based products on school menus in light of their impact on the environment. “Agriculture accounts for 13% of Iceland’s emissions,” the letter reads. “About 50% of these agricultural emissions are methane emissions due to animal farming, and methane gas is a greenhouse gas 25 times more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide.”

Council considers

City Councillor Lif Magneudóttir says the council is considering significantly reducing animal-based products in Reykjavík’s primary school cafeterias. Lif, who represents the Left Green Movement, also sits on the City’s School and Leisure Committee, says the move is in line with the city’s climate action plan. “I think it makes sense and I think it’s clear to everyone that we plan to take some action,” Lif stated. “We adopted a food policy last term that we are implementing now and we are going to review the climate action plan and this fits in with that very well.”

Lif says primary schools cafeteria menus were updated a few years ago, and their staples are currently vegetables, fruit, and milk, offering fish twice weekly and meat once or twice per week. “It’s very unanimous in this majority to look at these issues comprehensively and secure the resources needed to truly implement what we have agreed upon and is good for people and the environment.”

Opposition councillor Eyþór Arnalds of the Independence Party does not agree with Lif. In a Facebook post about the matter, he stressed the importance of eating local food and saying “fish and meat in Iceland is in a class of its own. No, if left-wing members of the city council want to lessen their carbon footprint, it would be appropriate for them the start with themselves. But let our children have good and varied food.”

Vegetables and variety

Hólmfríður Þorgeirsdóttir, a nutritional specialist at the Directorate of Health, also emphasised the importance of a varied diet when asked about the menu changes. “It’s quite possible to put together a menu without meat and then increase milk, eggs, and fish. But the more foods are excluded the more difficult this becomes,” she stated. “Increasing plant-based products is positive, both in terms of health and environmental issues and in accordance with the directorate’s recommendations.”

Decreasing Student Numbers Present Operational Challenges

Borgarfjörður eystri

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.

One Child Left in Grímsey

As of this coming winter, there will only be one child living on the island of Grímsey, RÚV reports. There has been a grade school in continual operation on the island since 1904, but as the resident youth reach middle and/or secondary school-age, they have to move to the main island, usually to the town of Akureyri, and board at schools there. When the coming academic year starts, only one five-year-old boy will still live on Grímsey; all of the island’s other children will be boarding elsewhere for school.

Grímsey is located 40 km [25 mi] off the northern coast of Iceland and actually straddles the Arctic circle. Less than 30 people have registered full-time residence there, although last fall, this number dropped to around 18 people in the off-season, i.e. from August to December. Last year, there were three young children living on the island, all of whom were schooled there. One family with two young children is, however, about to move away.

Unnur Íngólfsdóttir is mother to four children, including the youngest Grímsey resident. Her next youngest will be starting high school in Akureyri in the fall, just as her older two children did before. Unnur told RÚV that it’s doubtful that the kindergarten will operate in the fall, since she doesn’t think that her son will much enjoy being the only child there all day. She’s considering ways that she can improve her son’s situation, with one idea being that she’ll take him to the main island for kindergarten one week a month, which will give him the opportunity to socialize with other children. Although she insists that she’s optimistic by nature and loves living on Grímsey, Unnur says that her family has obviously started to consider its future on the island.

Ingibjörg Ólöf Isaksen, the chair of the Akureyri town council’s education committee, said it will be hard to keep the Grímsey school open for just one pupil. She said that she hoped that the number of children on the island would increase in the coming years, in which case, there would be no difficulty in reopening the school.

Applications for Teachers’ Education Increase by 30%

preschool kindergarten kids children child

The number of applications for graduate studies in preschool and primary school education at the University of Iceland has increased by 30% compared to the average over the last five years. A press release from the Ministry of Education says the total number of applications this year is 264, while the recent annual average has been 186.

“This is really delightful news,” stated Minister of Culture and Education Lilja Alfreðsdóttir. “I myself feel a lot of momentum in education issues and the discussion about the future of Icelandic education.”

Earlier this year, the Minister introduced measures aimed at increasing the number of teachers. The measures include, among other things, a paid internship in the final year toward earning a teaching license for preschool and primary school teaching. Teaching students can also apply for a grant of up to ISK 800,000 ($6,450/€5,800) in their final year of studies. Applications for other Ministry of Education grants, which fund specialisation in job-related areas for teachers, have doubled in recent years.

Free School Supplies for Reykjavík Students

Primary schools in Reykjavík will not be sending parents a back-to-school shopping list this fall as they have done in the past, RÚV reports. Students will instead receive supplies such as notebooks, writing utensils, crayons, folders, and stationery free of charge.

On December 6, 2017, Reykjavík City Council approved a motion to ensure that all supplies students use during school time should be provided to them at no cost, starting with the 2018-2019 school year. The decision was made on the recommendation of the Alliance of Parent’s Associations and Parent’s Councils of Elementary Schools in Reykjavík (SAMFOK). “Such an arrangement saves both money and time, is environmentally friendly, and supports better use of school supplies,” states a press releasefrom the council.

The program will cost the city around ISK 40 million ($364,000/€322,000).