School Children Strike for Palestine

Alþingi parliament of Iceland

Students from capital area elementary schools gathered outside Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament, on Austurvöllur square today to protest on behalf of Palestine. In a speech delivered by the organisers, the children demanded support from the Icelandic government for the Palestinian people.

Children from the lower secondary school Hagaskóli spearheaded the protest, encouraging students to leave class at 10:30 and assemble. They were inspired from visiting the protest camp on Austurvöllur earlier this year. Most of the Palestinian protesters who camped throughout January have family members who have been granted residence visas in Iceland on the basis of family reunification but are still stuck in Gaza.

Called for a ceasefire

“We’re protesting the genocide in Palestine,” organisers of the school strike said, according to Heimildin. “Authorities! Stop turning away people escaping genocide. Reunited families, like promised. Take a stance on the genocide, push for a ceasefire and a free Palestine in the international sphere. We, Icelandic students, object to Iceland being complicit in genocide.”

The children made five demands to the Icelandic authorities, calling for reunification of Palestinian families who hold Icelandic visas, supporting Palestinian refugees, taking a stance against genocide, meeting with Palestinian protesters, and pushing for ceasefire and peace on the international stage.

Eurovision controversy

“This is a genocide and nothing is being done about it,” Arnaldur Árnason, a student in Tjarnarskóli said, adding that he thought it was strange that Israel was allowed to compete in the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest and that Iceland should pull out in protest. “Russia was not allowed to participate, but Israel is still allowed to compete. It’s disgusting. I don’t understand how this is allowed.”

Updated Sex Ed Curriculum for Secondary Students in Iceland

Iceland’s Association for Sexual Health has published new educational material for sex ed in secondary schools. The material takes into account the major societal changes that have taken place in recent years, the association’s chairperson told RÚV.

The material consists of a new teaching manual for secondary school teachers, titled Youth Sexual Health and Wellbeing. The manual is a product of collaboration with a broad range of organisations, including the National Queer Association of Iceland (Samtökin ’78) the feminist disability movement Tabú and Trans Iceland. Secondary school teachers were also involved in the development of the material.

Self-esteem and sexual health

The manual’s 13 lessons cover a wide range of topics, from self-esteem and body image to emotions, porn literacy, healthy relationships, STI prevention, and pregnancy. The lesson plans use interactive teaching methods that actively involve students in the learning process.

Updated teaching material

Sóley Bender, the chairperson of Iceland’s Association for Sexual Health, told RÚV she hopes some teachers will start testing the material this autumn. The sex ed curriculum was last updated in 2011 and there have been many societal changes since that time.

“We know for example that just the Metoo movement and the whole discussion that took place after it regarding abuse. That is something that needs to be discussed.” Sóley adds that it is also necessary to take diversity into account in the curriculum and integrate it into teaching materials.

The manual is publicly available on the association’s website.

#MeToo “Revolution” Within Icelandic Secondary Schools

#MeToo

This week, students at MH junior college protested a history of perceived inaction on behalf of school administrators in matters of sexual abuse and misconduct. During a staged walk-out, students called on administrators and government officials to take action. In addition to offering formal apologies, school administrators, alongside one government minister, took steps to rectify the state of affairs in the future.

Lipstick smeared on bathroom mirrors

Tuesday, October 3, was a day of protest at the Hamrahlíð Junior College (Menntaskólinn við Hamrahlíð) in Reykjavík.

Rhetorical questions were smeared on bathroom mirrors with lipstick:

“Why are there so many rapists?”

School administrators were addressed via typed-out messages hung in the hallways:

“As a student at MH, I refuse to accept that full-on rapists are sitting across from me in class, are participating in group projects – are passing me by in the halls.”

The source of these protests?

The perception that history was repeating itself at MH: that once again school administrators were handling accusations of sexual abuse passively – and that victims were being made to confront perpetrators in the halls.

“For fuck’s sake, do something. I refuse to attend the same school as a person charged with raping his little cousin.”

The same war, ten years on …

In an op-ed published on Vísir.is on the following morning, MH alumna Brynhildur Karlsdóttir delineated her experience at MH junior college ten years ago:

“When I was a 17-year-old student at MH, I was raped by my friend and schoolmate. When I finally mustered the courage to open up to school administrators – I was met with closed doors. Despite anxiety attacks, fear, and post-traumatic stress, I never reported the incident to the police, and the only solace that the administration could offer was the prospect of switching schools.”

Brynhildur’s best friend waged a similar war:

“Having been brutally raped, my friend Elísabet pressed charges and offered substantial evidence. Nonetheless, she was made to confront her rapist in the hallways and attend the same classes. There was no justice for Elísabet, no one looked out for her, and she alone was made to shoulder responsibility for the violence she suffered. She committed suicide in 2019.”

Later in her piece, Brynhildur weaves her narrative into contemporary events at MH, describing how a student, as mentioned above, had decided to take matters into her own hands, writing lipstick messages onto bathroom mirrors. “I know this because my sister and my sister-in-law attend MH, and they tell me of a kind of student revolution that’s taking place.”

Speaking to a journalist from Vísir, Brynhildur described the administration’s reaction to the protests vicariously, through her sister and sister-in-law: “They said that the administration had been rather upset, and referred to the protests a kind of ‘group hysteria.’ They don’t seem to be showing any consideration for the experiences of students, who are opening up about the injustice that they’ve suffered. It’s just silenced, and, once again, the shame lives on with the victims.”

The President of MH, Steinn Jóhannsson, reached out to Brynhildur on the following morning, offering an apology on the school’s behalf (despite not having been President during Brynhildur’s time at the college):

“He offered a former apology on behalf of MH … it was unexpected,” Brynhildur remarked. “One is somehow not used to someone accepting responsibility and saying, ‘Yes, that’s awful, we’re so sorry to hear it, and we failed you.’ That was big.”

MH administrators also offered a formal apology to students, observing that they regretted the fact that current and former students had experienced distress relating to matters of sexual abuse and misconduct within the school premises.

“These are sensitive issues; we want to learn and do better,” a press release from the school read.

1,000 students participate in protests

At 11 AM yesterday morning, dozens of MH students staged a walk-out, congregating outside the walls of the school in a meeting of solidarity and to voice their demands. Other students from other secondary schools also attended.

Agla Elín Davíðsdóttir, a student at MH, read a list of demands geared toward changing school contingency plans regarding matters of sexual abuse.

“We demand that administrators treat sexual offences with the same, if not greater, gravity as other violent offences,” Agla stated.

As noted by RÚV, the protestors made four demands:

  • Perpetrators of sexual violence be expelled from school (i.e. that victims be spared confrontation with perpetrators on school premises)
  • Gender studies be made mandatory in all schools
  • Administrators, teachers, and staff receive gender and sexology training
  • Students be able to report sexual offences in an easy manner

The minister responds

Among those who attended the protests was Ásmundur Einar Daðason, Minister of Education and Children.

When asked why he had decided to attend the protests, Ásmundur remarked that the students were calling for the government and school administrators to listen. “And that’s why I’m here … I think that for too long we’ve failed to engage with these voices … these young people, they’re heralding a new era, and if we fail to listen – we’re in trouble.”

Addressing the crowd, Ásmundur offered an apology on behalf of the Icelandic government: “We apologise for not having listened to you over the past years,” he stated.

Aside from the apologies, the upshot of the protests was also more concrete: school administrators from MH held a meeting with the Association of Icelandic Secondary School Students (SÍF) and decided that the school would partner with the association in its efforts against sexual violence and harassment. Minister Ásmundur Einar has also stated that he would call a meeting with the headmasters of Icelandic secondary schools to review contingency plans.

Icelandic Student Takes Second Place in European Statistics Competition

Ólöf María Steinarsdóttir, a student at Reykjavík’s Technical College, won second place in the 16-18 age group of the European Statistics Competition (ESC) for her statistical analysis of why Iceland has such high greenhouse gas emissions per capita. RÚV reports that 17,000 students from 19 countries took part in the competition.

The ESC is a competition organized by Eurostat and participating national statistical institutes, aimed at encouraging secondary students to become literate in statistics and official statistical sources. The competition is divided into two phases, national and European. Participants first participate at the national level and then those winners proceed to the European finals. This is the fifth year the competition has been held, but the first year Iceland has participated.

After winning the national competition in Iceland, Ólöf María and her fellow finalists were asked to produce two-minute videos on the environment. “Contestants had to present their findings on what official statistics tell about the environment in their country/region,” explains the press release on the Eurostat website. “The students produced really powerful videos, some even in the form of a rap song. Their message is clear: we need to build (statistical) knowledge about environmental issues and take action!” A jury of European experts reviewed the 66 submissions and selected the top five videos in the 14 – 16 age group (32 submissions) and the 16 – 18 age group (34 submissions). Ólöf María’s video placed second in the latter group, behind the team from Bulgaria. (A description of, and links to, all the top-placing videos can be found here.)

‘The Green Facade: The Story of Iceland Told by Statistics’

In her video, ‘The Green Facade: The Story of Iceland Told by Statistics,’ Ólöf María examines why Iceland produces 5.24x as much in emissions as its larger European neighbours. This despite the fact that on a household-level, emissions are low in Iceland, and have been consistently so for over 25 years. Industry, and most specifically aluminum production, produces 90% of Iceland’s emissions. See the full, two-minute video, in English, below.

More Young People Apply for Summer Work School in North Iceland

The Akureyri Work School, which provides summer work for young people in the North Iceland town doing a variety of public improvement projects, has had 50% more applications this year than last, RÚV reports. A total of 696 young people applied for work opportunities through the work school; all applicants to the program are guaranteed paid work this summer.

The Akureyri Work School offers paid summer work opportunities for students who are 14, 15, 16-17, and 18-25 years old. The highest increase was among 17-year-old students: 126 in 2020, versus 38 last summer.

As the school received more applications than expected, it revised the parameters of its summer programs and in some cases, reduced the total number of summer working hours for an age bracket but extended the time period over which the hours would be completed in order to ensure that young people remain active throughout the summer.

Fourteen-year-old participants in the program will be offered 105 working hours over the summer; 15-year-olds, 120 hours; 16-year-olds 140 hours. The oldest age group, 17-year-olds, will be given 200 hours of work over the whole summer period. The municipality has also authorized 100 special summer jobs within institutions, museums, or companies to be opened to young people aged 18-25 and 121 applications were received for these positions.

Icelandic Students Call for Access to Unemployment Benefits

Háskóli Íslands University of Iceland

The Icelandic government will set aside ISK 2.2 billion ($15 million/€13.9 million) to create 3,400 summer jobs for students in response to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Union of Icelandic Students has criticised the response as insufficient and called for student access to unemployment benefits.

Iceland’s Minister of Education Lilja Alfreðsdóttir and Minister of Social Affairs Ásmundur Einar Daðason announced the measures intended to support student employment in the coming months. The 3,400 jobs created in government institutions and municipalities will be temporary positions, active between June 1 and August 31. “If it is found that this number of summer jobs and other resources does not reach a sufficient number of students, ways will be sought to create more jobs and/or secure other means of support,” a government notice on the initiative stated.

Students Pay Into Unemployment Funds But Cannot Access Them

The National Union of Iceland Students (LÍS) has released a statement criticising the measures as insufficient, pointing toward recent surveys that showed thousands of students had not yet found summer jobs. “If unemployment among students is actually as high as the [surveys] indicate, this remedy will be short-lived,” the statement reads.

LÍS particularly criticised the fact that since January 1, 2010, Icelandic students have not had access to unemployment benefits, despite paying into the national unemployment insurance fund. According to a Europe-wide study, 87% of students in Iceland work during study breaks and 68% during the lecture period. “A part of people’s salaries are paid into the unemployment insurance fund and the insurance fund for self-employed individuals, including the salaries of students. However, students are not entitled to payments from the fund due to unemployment, even though they have been working and payments flowed into the fund because of their work.”

LÍS has launched a petition calling for the government to ensure students the right to unemployment benefits, which at the time of writing is near to reaching its goal of 2,500 signatures.

University Students Assist Contact Tracing Team

Háskóli Íslands University of Iceland

One hundred health sciences students at the University of Iceland are assisting the Department of Civil Defense’s contact tracing team, RÚV reports.

Auður Kristjánsdóttir, a Master’s student in the physiotherapy department, is one of the students participating in contact tracing efforts. “We are just calling people and finding out if they’re aware that they should be in quarantine and checking on how they’re feeling, whether they are symptomatic and then [if so] directing them to call their local health clinic or 1700 [Iceland’s COVID-19 hotline],” she explained.

Auður said that she was just at home working on her thesis project when the contract tracing team reached out for student volunteers. “I thought I could help,” she said. “It’s gone well – we get a standard interview script that we go through and the interviews are, of course, confidential. People have responded well, they’ve been willing to provide their information in order to try and curtail the spread of the virus.”

Icelandic Youth Mark One Year of Weekly Climate Strikes

Climate Strike Iceland

Students demonstrated in Austurvöllur square on Friday, demanding that the government take action on climate issues. Friday marked the one-year anniversary of the first weekly School Strike for Climate in Iceland. To mark the day, primary, secondary, and college students gathered in front of Hallgrímskirkja just before noon and marched to Austurvöllur square, in front of the Icelandic Parliament, where student leaders delivered speeches demanding action on climate change.

Vísir reports that young Icelandic activists involved in the ongoing #FridaysForFuture school strikes say the government has yet to take meaningful steps towards addressing climate issues in the country. This was the 52nd Friday that young people in Iceland have demonstrated in support of climate change action.

Jóna Þórey Pétursdóttir, the president of the University of Iceland’s Student Council, told reporters that she believed students’ ongoing protests have had a measurable impact thus far, particularly in terms of making the topic of climate change a public debate and raising awareness about climate issues. “…[W]e’re showing that young people are ready to take matters into our own hands. The goal, of course, was to demand increased measures from the government and we’ve yet to see those. Which is why we’re going to continue,” she remarked.

“We want a bright future,” Brynjar Einarsson, a student at Háteigsskóli primary school, told reporters. “A future that isn’t polluted. One where we can live without needing to be worried that we’re going to die because of climate change.”

Brynjar’s 13-year-old classmate, Jökull Jónsson, has been involved in the school strikes for climate from the beginning, and expressed a certain amount of pessimism about the future, although he did have specific ideas about ways in which Iceland could meaningfully address climate change issues.

“Really, we just need to reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible and try to be environmentally friendly.”

 

Organised Beer Tasting for Elderly Neighbours

Grund Elderly Care Centre.

A pilot project which provided housing for university students in elderly care centres in Reykjavík will continue this fall, Vísir reports. In exchange for the living space, students organised social events and provided company for their elderly neighbours. Two students participated in the pilot last year, and a new report on the project states the experience was a positive one.

The City of Reykjavík Welfare Committee confirmed the continuation and expansion of the pilot in a meeting in August. University students will receive housing in five elderly care centres and provide companionship and social activities at the locations. One student will reside at each of the five centres this fall, and two additional students will be added annually over the next two years.
Andrea Ósk Sigurbjörnsdóttir, enrolled in recreation studies, was one of the two students who participated in the pilot. While she says the project entailed many challenges, her experience was overall a positive one.

“It was a very fun experience. The project was sometimes taxing, but it’s definitely something that I absolutely don’t regret doing,” Andrea stated. “I went for walks with some of the residents and then chatted with others throughout the day. Then I tried to stimulate social life at the location by organising bingo, poetry evenings, and beer tasting, among other activities. That created a great atmosphere.”

Andrea says the project succeeded in bridging the gap between generations. Hey eyes were opened to all kinds of challenges faced by senior citizens, and at the same time she has undoubtedly opened the eyes of her former neighbours and widened their perspective. “I got a girlfriend during [the time I lived there] and she sometimes stayed with me and vice versa. Many residents thought she was my sister and some whispering was heard in the corridors. But I was just open about it and then it was no big deal.”

One aspect of the project Andrea thinks could be improved would be increasing the collaboration between students who take part. “I didn’t have any contact with the other participant and that would have certainly helped both of us.”

Rejection of Student Visas on Basis of Nationality Overruled

 

Iceland’s Immigration Appeals Board has ruled that the Directorate of Immigration was not permitted to deny visas to 50 would-be students from Bangladesh. RÚV reports that the Directorate rejected all of the applications on the basis of nationality as it considered there to be a risk the individuals were applying on the wrong grounds. With its ruling, the Appeals Board has now rejected that argument.

In 2017, the University of Bifröst decided to begin offering programs taught in English and since that time has been seeking international applicants. “The school has therefore had agents in certain countries that have acted as intermediaries for potential students, including in Bangladesh,” stated Leifur Runólfsson, who represents the Bangladeshis in the case. “By doing so, the school is both strengthening itself financially and in quality. The school has very much been gaining ground on the Asian market.”

Last spring, 50 Bangladeshi nationals applied to study business at Bifröst, applying for student visas as well. “When it came to light that The Directorate of Immigration had rejected them all on the basis of nationality and the suspicion that they were going to apply for asylum in Iceland, 47 of them appealed the decision,” Leifur stated.

Leifur says the applicants are expected to be able to start studying at Bifröst this fall. “We hope so. We need to of course wait for [the decision to be processed at] the Directorate of Immigration where the applications will be reviewed again and residence permits issued.”