For Falkland Islanders, self-sufficiency starts at school

This is the first in a series of blogs posted by Keene Communications’ MD, Simon Quarendon, who is visiting the Falkland Islands.

Here’s an interesting question to ask a school pupil from the UK. What would you prefer; your teacher comes to stay with you at your house or you stay with the teacher at school?

Most would answer ‘neither’, but Falkland Islands school children could answer ‘both’.  For even today, teachers travel across camp, including the remote and largely uninhabited West Islands, moving from settlement to settlement and staying a few days at each to teach the children who live there.

On reaching a certain age, the children then stay in dormitories attached to the school in Stanley where they stay until they are 16. If they want to continue their education after that, they must relocate to the UK, usually to Peter Symonds College in Winchester.

If they want to continue their education after A Levels (and the Falkland Islands Government which pays for this system hopes they will) then they can go onto Universities in the UK, US or increasingly, South America.

These children must grow up fast.  As well as travelling an unescorted  7000+ miles between the UK and the Islands on an ‘airbridge’ funded by the MOD, their feeling of isolation must be compounded by their parents only having access to patchy and costly internet  on the Islands.

Their topsy-turvy world continues when they head home for their summer holidays.  While  their British school friends spend the summer breaks in the European sunshine, the Falkland Islanders head back to an Astral winter where the average daily temperatures only just makes it into single figures.

Despite the many downsides to this system (the homesickness must be pretty awful at times) these children learn to be resilient, self-sufficient and practical. So it’s not surprising that these qualities shape their society and government, both, of course, made up of former pupils.

This is a society that is very firmly grounded despite the possibility of a significant increase in revenues due to the oil and gas finds. With the exception of talk about improving the road to Mount Pleasant Airport, there’s not much other talk on how this wealth will be spent.

Falkland Islanders don’t look to the Middle East to see how their sovereign wealth fund could be invested. They look to Norway which has invested oil wealth in an altogether more cautious manner and one that will provide for future generations. The Falkland Islanders are renowned for turning necessities into virtues and their children’s education is no exception.

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