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eTwinning in the United Kingdom - the Shetland Islands, Scotland’s Northernmost point

Shetland is an archipelago between the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, is one of the most remote areas of the United Kingdom. Being so far away from Scotland and coming from a unique blend of Scottish and Scandinavian history makes Shetland feel like an entirely different place.

Shetland is made up of 100 islands with only 16 inhabited. For most of its history, Shetland had been dominated by Scandinavian influences, especially from Norway, before it become part of Scotland in the 15th century. Fishing is an important aspect of the economy up to the present day. The architecture, cuisine, musical tradition and in general the way of life in Shetland reflects the Scottish and Norse heritage of the isles.

A network of 22 primary schools currently covers the islands. Some rural primary schools are very small, employing only one or two teachers, and class sizes in these also tend to be small. After Primary 7, children move up to secondary school. This will usually be their nearest one, but it is sometimes possible for a child to be accommodated at another secondary school if a parent requests it.

There are four junior high schools, operating in four islands of the Shetland – Unst, Yell, Whalsay, and Mainland. Students wishing to proceed to Higher Grade study must move, at the beginning of their fifth year, to one of the two six-year high schools in Brae or Lerwick.

An eTwinner Isabelle Boulay, a Scottish teacher of secondary education describes below what it means to be a teacher in a remote area and talks about how eTwinning has improved her school and her classroom.

Mid Yell JHS

I started teaching in Glasgow in August 1992 doing supply work until November 1993 when I moved to the Mainland of Shetland to teach in Scalloway until summer 1995. I then moved to Yell where I have been teaching ever since. In October 2014 I stopped teaching French in Primary in Yell and started teaching S1 to S4 in Baltasound Junior High School on the island of Unst. I’ve been teaching for over 26 years, 23 in Shetland.

Mid Yell JHS is a non-denominational school providing education for children from Nursery to Secondary four. The school roll is presently 83 pupils and there are a further 13 children in the Nursery class. Our primary department is divided into 2 classes: Lower Primary and Upper Primary. The secondary department has pupils from S1 to S4. 

In Mid Yell JHS, classes begin at 9 am. The classes sizes are relatively small giving the opportunity to the teachers to get to know their pupils well. After my teaching hours a lot of my afterschool time is spent thinking and planning for our eTwinning and Erasmus+ project “Let’s Think about Plastic”.

The project raises awareness about plastic pollution. Mid Yell Junior High School and Baltasound Junior High school in the Shetland Islands together with Collège Le Dimitile in Réunion Island, in the Pacific Ocean and Collège de Budé on the edge of Lake Geneva will be working together on plastics. In their own localities, pupils and teachers of Science, English, French, and Geography, and local outside agencies collaborate to better understand the problems created by plastic pollution.

Leaving and working in a remote area has its pros and cons. Accessibility is a big disadvantage. Access to events in Lerwick (main port of the Shetland Islands) or beyond is expensive. When you are the only teacher of your subject in your school you can feel reluctant to take time out of school to go on courses. Me and most of my secondary colleagues work between two secondary schools which puts extra pressure on us.

On the other hand, the staff of the school know each other well. Colleagues from Primary and Secondary support each other. Pupils and staff see each other in and out of the school. They are generally very respectful of each other. The community is also very supportive.

In 2012 thanks to eTwinning I found a colleague I had lost touch with. She worked in Shetland in the 90s and had moved to Reunion Island about 10 years later. We started working together on small projects to start with. In 2014 we won a European Quality label for a project and short films we made comparing life on our respective island. The year after we got involved with our first Erasmus+ project “Treasure” with a school in Andalusia. Again, eTwinning played a crucial role in bringing us together. We are now in the middle of our second Erasmus+ project. The impact of these projects on pupils is mainly their increased enthusiasm for French. The trips abroad, Erasmus+ grants make possible, really encourage our pupils’ sense of adventure and resilience. Our pupils create friendships with pupils from other countries. They have a better understanding of other cultures but also their own as a result. Getting involved in an Erasmus+ project also encourages me to look outwards and work more closely with colleagues and people in the community.

Below, a video from Da Voar Redd Up (Shetlandic Scots langauge meaning ‘Spring Clean’) carried out by pupils of Mid Yell JHS. The goal of this activity was to tidy and clean up the beautiful beaches of Yell Island.