Remote teaching in Greenland transforms small school classes | Polarjournal
The teacher Hansigne is teaching math remotely. Sometimes the old-fashioned board is easier to use than all the apps available for teachers and students. Photo: Kivitsisa
The Greenlandic teacher Hansigne is teaching math remotely. Sometimes the old-fashioned board is easier to use than all the apps available for teachers and students. Photo: Kivitsisa

In the past, teachers in remote villages in Greenland had to teach all subjects to all age groups. But improved internet and a new, nationwide project is revolutionizing the quality of teaching.

For many years, teachers in Greenland’s many small villages have needed extreme versatility. Not only would one single teacher be responsible for teaching all subjects, from math to Greenlandic, they would also be responsible for all age groups, from six to thirteen years old. And oftentimes the teachers would have no formal education in the field.

The country’s unique Arctic geography, far-flung, remote villages with no road access, means that neither teachers nor students can commute. So, until recently, the small villages, with between 20 and down to only two students, have had to make do with the limited resources available on location.

There is no doubt that sometimes the quality of teaching has not been ideal. 

But, a new nationwide remote education program, part of the larger education scheme called Kivitsisa, is rapidly changing that.

“With Kivitsisa we are developing a digital infrastructure and using it where it makes sense pedagogically. Digitization has a lot of potential in a country with a fragmented geography like Greenland,” Rune Bundgaard, educational anthropologist who is heading the Kivitsisa program, told Polar Journal.  

iPads for all students

Through the years, there have been many attempts at implementing remote education in Greenland. But, according to Rune Bundgaard, most have failed or stalled due to technical challenges.

“We are in the Arctic and the internet connections are unstable,” Rune Bundgaard said.

However, this time around things are different. The country’s five municipalities have invested in iPads for all students and the internet connections in the remote villages have improved.

“Tusass, the national telecommunications company, has made a gigantic effort to improve things. At the same time, all students have been given iPads, and we have defined clear ways to use them. These things put together means that suddenly we are able to reach these small villages,” Rune Bundgaard said.

The Kivitsisa program began in 2018, before the COVID-19 pandemic made remote education a reality even outside of the Arctic. But, Rune Bundgaard stresses, the negative experiences that some students, teachers, and parents had during the pandemic, are not applicable to the Greenlandic situation.

“Many people have negative thoughts about remote education due to the covid pandemic. But back then, the students had been sent home. It was students sitting at home, spread out in their individual homes.”

“This is not our scenario. We have students who show up at a school but where we need to import the expertise. This means that the children can work together and be active in the classroom. We don’t want passive students at their screens,” Rune Bundgaard said.

Lillian is teaching the three students at the school in Igaliku in South Greenland. Aside from this on location teaching, Lillian is also teaching remotely at six other schools in the municipality. Photo: Kivitsisa
Lillian is teaching the three students at the school in Igaliku in South Greenland. Aside from this on location teaching, Lillian is also teaching remotely at six other schools in the municipality. Photo: Kivitsisa

Started from scratch

The unique Arctic geography meant that the Kivitsisa program could not directly copy a remote education program from other parts of the world. The participating schools, teachers, and administrators have had to develop the methods on their own.

This has involved a lot of experimentation, an experimentation that is still ongoing.

“We couldn’t just go and do what they do in Australia, for instance, because they have other conditions. So from the beginning we decided to experiment and find our own didactics [teaching methods], and not least our own way of organizing the logistics of the teaching,” Rune Bundgaard said.

Throughout the country many methods have been tried. In most cases, teachers from larger villages nearby would teach students in the smaller ones through a webcam. In one case, a teacher had to be in Denmark for personal reasons but could continue teaching Danish and English to students in small Greenlandic villages.

But the new remote set-up can also be used to develop the skills of the local teachers.

“In one important experiment from South Greenland, we have an experienced teacher from a small village who is teaching teachers in six other small villages her best ideas and experiences, sharing teaching plans and giving feedback,” Rune Bundgaard recounts.

Despite having to be in Aarhus, Denmark, Iviluna, could kept teaching English students in the town of Maniitsoq in West Greenland. Photo: Kivitsisa
Despite having to be in Aarhus, Denmark, Iviluna, could kept teaching English to students in the town of Maniitsoq in West Greenland. Photo: Kivitsisa

Everyone wants to continue

The Kivitsisa program is still running and new knowledge is still being created. But at this point already, with the far reaching scope, reaching 16 different individual projects in all of Greenland’s five municipalities, and the positive reception around the country, Rune Bundgaard already considers the program a success.

“There have been frustrations and technical issues. But in spite of this, every single one of the teachers who have participated have wanted to continue. Everyone can see the potential of what we can achieve with this, and I think many of the teachers have seen it is an opportunity for personal development as well,” Rune Bundgaard said.

Similar words of praise can be found in a report on the Kivitisisa program published by the Institute of Learning, at Ilisimatusarfik, the University of Greenland. The report segments, for instance, states: “We have seen that remote education helps schools become more professional.”

In addition, it concludes that the learnings and experiences from Kivitsisa, Greenlandic for “let us lift”, can be used in other locations with similar geography. For instance, in areas with many islands or with long distances between villages like in some parts of the Scandinavian countries or, perhaps, in other Arctic countries.

Rune Bundgaard agrees.

“I can’t imagine that this could not be transferred to other locations with similar challenges. So, if anyone is interested in knowing more, they are more than welcome to contact me,” he said.

Ole Ellekrog, PolarJournal

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