The View From Here - Falkland Islands - Coping with the ultimate distance learning challenge
Eight thousand miles away from UK classrooms, British pupils are immersing themselves in a new term. The Falkland Islands, a British overseas territory, were once almost anonymous in the collective national psyche, but following the small matter of a war in the early 1980s, this tiny community is positively famous.
Outside the islands, however, little is known about their way of life. The small, semi-independent school system is striking for its similarities with the UK as well as its differences - not least how it is going to encourage its pupils to enter UK higher education in the new era of high tuition fees.
With a population of just 2,995 (according to the 2006 census), most residents live in the main town of Stanley, while others live in "Camp" - the surrounding countryside. The local community schools are, according to director of health and education David Jenkins, similar to those in the UK. "Schooling is free and compulsory, and a variety of subjects are offered. We have around 30 pupils in a class, and there are plenty of support staff who help out when pupils have special educational needs," he says. "We have the same GCSE system as the UK, with the same exam boards, and an inspectorate which is similar to Ofsted."
For pupils living in Camp, however, lessons are conducted via radio and telephone. Every six weeks a travelling teacher will visit, acting as a personal tutor while living in the family home for two weeks. "I don't think my education suffered because of the unusual teaching methods," says Nadia Smith, a Falklands resident who grew up on a farm in Camp. "On the radio there would be five children at the other end, so we would still be learning together."
At the age of 16, pupils who perform well are sent to the UK to continue their education. They either take A-levels at Peter Symonds College in Hampshire or NVQs at Chichester College in West Sussex, before going on to university.
The Falkland Islands government covers 100 per cent of tuition fees and living costs, but it would seem that this is about to change. "That will be problematic," Mr Jenkins says. "In the future we will have to look at how to beat the challenging costs. We're considering some sort of bursary programme. It's a long way down the line, but yes, it will definitely have an impact on us."
But he is sure that it will not stop students from going to the UK. Take Pippa Christie, a student who attended Peter Symonds College after her GCSEs. "The big population was a shock, but I had been to the UK before so it wasn't too bad. Still, everybody gets homesick," she says.
And in the current climate, students tend to stay in the UK to go to university - but they do come back. Normally.
"Not everyone comes back after university, which is a downside," says Mr Jenkins. "But we look for career gaps on the islands and offer returning graduates career schemes."
For now, it would seem that the experience the students get by moving to the UK is invaluable to them - and the islands.