De Jutter is a school on the Dutch island of Vlieland, about two hours by ferry from the mainland. It is now the only school on the island after the primary and secondary schools were merged due to the dwindling number of school-age children in the island’s one village. This is a unique situation in the Netherlands, but my no means an exception when you zoom out to a European level. From Scotland to Greece, Finland to Croatia, island schools across Europe are finding ways to provide quality education in spite of their isolated locations and small size. But what could they achieve if they work together?
After various talks with educational experts working on depopulation and innovation, De Jutter began working with Learning Hub Friesland, a Dutch educational non-profit. They set out to find European partners to help them create innovative learning materials which take their island setting into account and bring them in contact with other island schools. This became the iSHRINK project, which in August 2020 was approved a three-year grant under the EU’s Erasmus+ programme.
The iSHRINK project will connect Europe’s island schools with one another to create innovative education based around sustainability challenges. With project partners from Iceland, the Netherlands, the UK, Spain and Greece, the project will have top universities working on education and sustainability work with island schools to cocreate learning materials which place the emphasis on pupils’ active citizenship and the sustainable future of their islands.
A key tool developed during the project will be an online platform where island schools can work together, with pupils collaborating internationally on shared local challenges. There’ll also be learning materials based around common challenges for teachers and pupils to use, as well as a matching scan to pair island schools from across Europe with one another.
Pupils from Vlieland in the Netherlands and Astypalaia in Greece, both partners in the project, will get the chance to visit each other during two learning weeks, planned for 2022 and 2023. Pupils will also work with university researchers and other experts to come up with policy recommendations for the future of their islands and schools. They’ll have the chance to present these on a European level in the project’s final conference in 2023.
The project partnership brings together experts from different fields from across Europe. The University of Akureyri, located on a fjord in the far north of Iceland, is an expert in remote learning and digital tools for education. Scottish partner the University of Strathclyde already runs a project with island schools called Island Explorers and so are well-ahead in delivering island education. The Universitat Politècnica de València, the Spanish partner, has a wealth of knowledge on challenge-based learning, and the University of Groningen in the Netherlands will bring in their expertise in islands, sustainability and population decline. Greek eLearning experts IDEC will develop an online platform for schools, with Dutch partner Learning Hub Friesland coordinating the project and ensuring everything runs smoothly. Last but absolutely not least, De Jutter and the Gymnasium of Astypalaia, a Greek island school, will represent a larger group of island schools which will join the project and ensure that their needs are truly reflected in everything the project does.
Alongside the project partners, organisations such as the European Small Islands Federation, the International Small Islands Studies Association and the Edge Foundation’s Island Education Network will be making sure the project’s tools and findings reach islands across the continent.