Reykjavík Delays School Start for Teens in Sleep Health Initiative

Reykjavík City Council has approved a three-year pilot project, starting in autumn 2024, to delay school start times for teenagers, Vísir reports. The initiative is the result of two studies led by Dr Erla Björnsdóttir on teen sleep duration.

Mental well-being on the decline

Following two studies on the sleep duration of teenagers in Reykjavík City primary schools, led by Dr Erla Björnsdóttir, the city council of Reykjavík has approved a three-year pilot project to delay the start of the school day for adolescents.

Beginning in the autumn of 2024, the school day for teenagers will start no earlier than 8:50 AM. Each school will be free to choose how best to adapt to this change, having the option of beginning the day later than 8:50 AM if it suits their school’s schedule.

Read More: Mad World, on Iceland’s Mental Health Crisis

In a statement from the City of Reykjavík, it was noted that despite increased awareness of the importance of sleep, many teenagers still do not get enough. Moreover, the number of those not sleeping sufficiently is growing annually.

“At the same time as more teenagers are sleeping too little, studies show that their mental well-being is deteriorating. It is clear that there are significant connections between sleep and mental health,” the statement notes.

As noted by Vísir, a working group was established to propose the implementation and details of this delay, leading to the decision described above.

Read More: Stop All the Clocks, on the too-fast Icelandic clock

School Plan for Grindavík Children Announced

grindavík eruption

An information meeting held today, November 20, by the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management laid out current plans for the Grindavík primary school children displaced by the standing evacuation order.  RÚV reports.

No compulsory school for Grindavík children

According to the latest announcement, there is to be no compulsory schooling for Grindavík children, though they will be provided with the opportunity to attend school. Arrangements are currently being made with the assistance of neighbouring communities.

The children of Grindavík will be presented with two main options: attending school in the community where their family currently resides or attending one of several “group schools” throughout Reykjavík.

Families who wish to enrol their child in their community school are advised to directly contact school administrators.

Children from Grindavík who wish to remain with their peers can do so in several “group schools” throughout Reykjavík, which are slated to begin this Wednesday, November 22.

Groups will be organized based on age, and teachers from Grindavík will accompany the students. Groups will be organised as follows:

  • First and second grades will assemble at Hvassaleitisskóli.
  • Third and fourth grades will assemble at the Tónabær community centre.
  • Fifth through eighth grades will assemble at Ármúli 30.
  • Ninth and tenth grades will assemble at Laugalækjarskóli.

Further information will be provided to parents and students via the Mentor learning management system.

MET Office: Likelihood of Volcanic Eruption Remains “High”

Authorities are currently still considering available sites for a group preschool for Grindavík children. The current plan is for Grindavík preschool children to come together with familiar teachers and possibly parents.

Officials stress that the circumstances of the children vary, and parents are encouraged to have an open conversation with their children about their schooling.

Icelandair Launches New Training Programme

Keflavík airport Icelandair

Icelandair has announced the launch of a new training programme, set to begin this winter.

The programme will partner together with the Norwegian Pilot Flight Academy and is intended to give students priority to employment at Icelandair upon graduation.

Applications for the program will be open from September 14th to September 28th, 2023.

Crucial to support aviation

Regarding the recent announcement, Icelandair CEO Bogi Nils Bogason stated: “As an island, Iceland is heavily reliant on aviation, so it is crucial that we offer excellent educational opportunities in the specialized fields of aviation. While Icelandair continues to experience high demand for positions within our company, it is important to support the continued growth of our society and ensure a skilled workforce for the future.”

The programme is open to applicants between the ages 18-30 who have a high school level education and good English skills. Icelandic proficiency is not required, but desirable.

The first part of the training is theoretical and takes place in Sandefjord, Norway, lasting for about 8 months. Students will then go to Texas for 4 months to complete their practical training.

After completing their practical training, students return to Norway for instrument and multi-engine training (approximately 90 flight hours), along with A-UPRT and APS MCC training.

The entire programme takes approximately 18 months.

 

500 Children on Waitlist for Preschool in Reykjavík

preschool iceland

Árelía Eydís Guðmundsdóttir, director of the Council for Education and Recreation for Reykjavík City, has stated in a recent interview with RÚV that this will be a “difficult year.”

Last week, registration for preschool in Reykjavík opened for next year. Of the applicants, some 1,500 children will be placed, but more than 500 remain on the waitlist.

In Focus: The Preschool System

On the news programme Kastljós, Árelía ensured Reykjavík parents that children born in February 2022 and before would be guaranteed spaces at a preschool.

In the last election cycle for Reykjavík City Council, campaign promises were made that would guarantee children a spot in preschool from the age of 12 months. This has not yet been the case, with staffing shortages and long wait lists being a problem last year as well.

Preschool Staffing Shortage Leaves 90 Positions Unfilled

Árelía did not say exactly how many children would be without placements this year, but expressed her hopes to “empty the waitlist” as much as possible.

Other Reykjavík City Councillors have also called for increased funding to the preschool system, such as Independence Party representative Ragnhildur Alda Vilhjálmsdóttir.

For the past 15 years, around 1,000 children throughout Iceland have been without preschool or daycare every year.

Exacerbating the situation has been a recent decrease in the number of preschool workers, with many positions left unfilled.

On Kastljós, Árelía stated: “This will be a difficult year. There is no magic solution, but we are working to improve the situation.”

 

A Challenge to Provide Equal Access to Education for Immigrants

school children

There are 50 refugee children in Iceland that are not attending school as they are still waiting to receive school placements, including 20 children who have completed the required preparatory process. Minister of Education and Children Ásmundur Einar Daðason said the process to place refugee children in schools has gone well overall considering the level of strain on the system. He added that Icelandic society must do more to ensure all children of foreign origin have equal access to education and job opportunities as native Icelanders.

Housing impacts schooling for refugees

Most of the refugee children who have yet to be placed in schools in Iceland have been waiting since November of last year. “I think that everyone is doing their best to make it happen as fast as possible, but it’s very clear there’s been a lot of strain on our system,” Ásmundur Daði stated.

The Minister explained the process in an interview on Rás 2 this morning. “Just to go over it briefly, when a family comes here, it’s the Directorate of Labour that sees to these issues and sends a request to schools, the family has to undergo a medical examination which takes some time, then they will be placed in temporary housing before they receive permanent housing […] that process takes a certain amount of time, and there’s been a lot of strain on the municipalities where this temporary housing is. And it’s been a challenge to get families into permanent housing.”

While it would be ideal to place children in school sooner following their arrival, Ásmundur Einar stated that there have been cases where refugee children have moved schools twice within six weeks due to changes from temporary to permanent housing, for example. Such moves are not ideal either, he pointed out.

Huge influx of children of foreign origin requires systemic changes

Ásmundur Einar stated it was not only refugee children causing strain on the educational system, but the dramatic increase of children of foreign origin in general. Between 1996 and 2022, the number of children of foreign origin in the school system increased 23 times over, to make up 11% of students today. The Minister says this proportion will only increase and the government is working on ways to improve the reception of children of foreign origin into the school system.

Asked about the possibility of setting up special schools for refugee children waiting for permanent placements, Ásmundur Einar stated such a move has been considered. “But it would need to be a holistic decision, not just for children from Ukraine and Venezuela or Syria, but for children of foreign origin. Do we want them to go to a special program to start with where they’re just learning Icelandic for a few months, participating maybe in social activities as well, but not have only children from Ukraine doing that, because we want them to go into the general school system and participate in society here.”

Immigrants and their children don’t have the same opportunities

The Minister pointed out that the representation of immigrants within Icelandic institutions is not proportional to their numbers within Icelandic society, which is over 15%. “The challenge is how do we help these children to reach the same level of success as the rest of us in Icelandic society. There should be 15 MPs of foreign origin, there should be 2-3 ministers of foreign origin. These people are not getting the same opportunities as the rest of us.”

Within the school system, children of foreign origin reportedly achieve lower grades than native Icelandic students, are more likely to drop out and less likely to attend higher education. Children of foreign origin also show less participation in sports and recreational activities. “This is a cause for concern in the long term. We need to think as a society, what can we do differently?”

For those who argue that the cost of educating children or teaching them Icelandic is high, the Minister points out that immigrants coming into the system and going straight to the labour market are individuals the country has not had to invest in, in terms of their education.

What’s Being Done About Homophobia in Iceland’s Schools?

Rainbow flags Höfði homophobia iceland

Iceland is often in the foreign media for its position on many indexes for human rights, equality, and social justice. Although the LGBT+ community enjoys many rights in Iceland, homophobia still remains a problem, especially in schools.

If you are interested in what the official policy is on LGBT+ students is in the Icelandic school system, you may find the official Reykjavík City website helpful.

Concerning specific steps taken to ensure the safety and well being of LGBT+ students in Iceland, there have been many initiatives and task forces lately to confront these problems, including a 2021 Task Force on Gender Neutral Facilities in Schools and a 2022 Task Force on the Status of Gender and LGBT+ Education in Reykjavík City Schools.

Currently, Reykjavík City has a 2019-2023 Human Rights and Democracy Action Plan, which entails both a report on the state of the rights of sexual minorities in Iceland, in addition to suggestions for improvement. Some suggestions include not assuming heterosexuality in schools, more open sexual education, and more mental health resources for students.

Reykjavík is also a part of the Rainbow Cities Network, a platform for cities devoted to improving LGBT+ issue. Among other requirements for certification in the Rainbow Cities Network, public employees must undergo training in issues relating to the LGBT+ community.

Homophobia in Icelandic schools is also a part of a broader discussion of bullying and mental health in young people, which has recently surfaced in the news.

We have also reported on a significant case of hate speech in Iceland, in which an individual was fined for his 2015 online comments that were found to be homophobic. Although originally acquitted, his comments were ultimately found to be in violation of Article 233 (a) of the General Penal Code, which forbids defamation, libel, threats, and discrimination. The court ruled that his comments were “serious, severely hurtful and prejudicial,” and he was fined ISK 100,000 (around EUR 800 at the time).

 

Lack of Housing Affecting Ukrainian Children’s Access to School in Iceland

Some Ukrainian children who have come to Iceland as refugees have not been able to register for school because their parents do not have an electronic ID or because they have not found permanent housing, RÚV reports. Around 1,500 refugees have come to Iceland from Ukraine since the war started, and the number is expected to grow to 4,000 by the end of the year.

One of the biggest challenges facing Ukrainian families when they arrive in Iceland is finding housing. While they are provided with temporary housing upon arrival, they must search for permanent housing on their own. Not having a permanent address affects their access to services.

“Municipalities’ regulations are such that if a child does not have a permanent address here in Iceland, they are denied entry to the school system wherever they happen to be located,” explained Sveinn Rúnar Sigurðsson, who runs a shelter for refugees in the capital area. Sveinn says that finding housing for everyone who needs it is difficult even with the current number of refugees, much less with 4,000.

One Ukrainian mother, Natalia, who spoke with reporters, stated that her 12-year-old daughter was not given a spot in the school system because Natalia does not have an electronic ID. “We are in temporary housing. We can stay [there] until October 13. We came here with Ukrainian passports, but we don’t have electronic ID and therefore we can’t register her in school. She wants to go to school and is very worried about this,” Natalia stated.

Nadia, another Ukrainian woman, stated her child was accepted into a school in Hafnarfjörður after a significant waiting period. She says she is worried about her son who does not yet speak any Icelandic, but trusts the Icelandic school system.

Tina, a 15-year-old from Ukraine, is starting school at the junior college Menntaskólinn í Hamrahlíð in the coming days. She stated she was excited to meet Icelandic kids her age and experience new teaching methods.

Almost 700 Children Waitlisted for Reykjavík Preschools

school children

Nearly 700 hundred children aged 12 months and older are currently waitlisted for places in preschools around Reykjavík, RÚV reports.

Parents of waitlisted children gathered at Reykjavík City Hall on Friday to protest the situation. Speaking to reporters, they explained the difficulties of finding childcare during the workday. One parent noted that he’d gone through the same situation with his first child five years ago, but said the process was even worse now. Another father described splitting babysitting duties between his child’s grandparents—three days a week with his father, two days a week with his mother—while he worked night shifts in order to ensure that neither he nor his partner needed to cut back on working hours in order to be able to take care of their toddler. A mother said that after calling preschools all over the city, she’d tried to find a professional childminder to watch her baby during the workday, but there were extensive waitlists with all of these individuals as well.

According to data provided by the City of Reykjavík, of the 669 children waitlisted for spots in local preschools, 60 are currently enrolled in private preschools until places can be found for them in city-run facilities. It’s assumed that many of the waitlisted children are in the daily care of privately employed childminders, but no information is available on how many at this time.

As of Friday, the city was preparing to allocate 200 more preschool spots, leaving 470 eligible children in limbo. City officials have said it may be possible to accept more children into preschools in the coming months and that efforts are being made to increase the number of available spots. Speaking to reporters on Friday, however, Mayor Dagur B. Eggertson said the city couldn’t make any promises that the youngest children on the waitlist would be placed or that parents who want to place their children in a specific preschool will be able to be accommodated.

Police Respond to Bomb Threats at Reykjavík School

Classes were cancelled at Reykjavík junior college Mentaskólinn við Hamrahlíð this morning after school administrators received a bomb threat by email. Police made an extensive search of the building and found no dangerous items. The school has been reopened and administrative staff will decide whether classes will resume in the afternoon.

Several Bomb Threats Made

Police have stated they believe they know who was behind the threat. According to a notice to press, the individual is based abroad and has issued similar threats in the past. Bomb threats were also made on other locations, and police have responded accordingly at three institutions besides the school.

Parents On Crossing Guard Duty After Teen Hit by Car

Reykjavík baby

Parents and school staff in the Vesturbær neighborhood on the west side of Reykjavík are on high alert after a thirteen-year-old was hit by a car while walking to school this week, RÚV reports. The same afternoon, city officials stationed a crossing guard at the accident site to make street crossings safer for schoolchildren, but just to be safe, neighborhood parents have also taken up an informal watch.

The victim, who luckily did not sustain any serious injuries during the event, was hit at the intersection of Hringbraut and Meistaravellir at 9.00am on Wednesday. On Thursday morning, neighborhood residents, such as Ólöf Jakobsdóttir and her husband and father, stationed themselves at different points along the busy street in the early morning hours. The new crossing guard is intended to be stationed at Hringbraut and Meistaravellir until the spring, but Ólöf says she intends to personally monitor traffic and pedestrians at her corner, Framnesvegur and Hringbraut, until they feel sure that local children will be safe.

Parents Take Up Watch

“[We’ll be here] for a while, at least,” Ólöf confirmed, “and we hope that [other] parents take some part in this, too. We’re going to do it, at least, me and my husband. My dad, a grandfather, is up for coming out and keeping watch there, too. Maybe until we see that it’s in place, this crossing guard patrol, that the city’s providing. Just until we feel safe about stopping.”

Ólöf also believes that the traffic lights at intersections along Hringbraut should be adjusted so that all traffic comes to a stop when the walk sign is green.

Margrét Einarsdóttir, the principal of Vesturbæjarskóli elementary school, also came out to monitor traffic along Hringbraut this morning. “Everything went well this morning and there was also a police officer on site…But of course this issue needs to be examined more closely – [traffic] speed, etc. And we’ve been doing that for a number of years – that’s not lacking.”

School Lacked Funding for Crossing Guard

Crossing guard duty in the area is actually under the purview of a school employee. But although the school had previously received requests for a crossing guard at Hringbraut and Meistaravellir, Margrét says that the city had not provided funding for this until the accident occurred on Wednesday. She says that local residents have been complaining about traffic conditions along Hringbraut for many years.

A working group led by the City of Reykjavík’s Environment and Planning Committee did in fact publish a report in January 2017 which proposed, among other things, that the speed of traffic west of Kringlumýrarbraut be lowered by 10 km/hr in two areas where the current speed limit is 50-60km/h (31-37mi/h). It was also suggested that pedestrian paths along streets where the speed limit is 40-50km/h (25-31mi/h), such as the section of Hringbraut where the child was hit, be raised and more clearly marked.

Police will hold a meeting with residents next week to discuss traffic along Hringbraut.