School’s in again, and this year AAH moved up a level. Here in Niceland, compulsory education ends at the age of sixteen, which corresponds to the end of elementary school. From then on, most kids move on to framhaldsskóli [upper secondary school] which is like a senior high school and lasts four years. It ends with a stúdentspróf, or high school equivalent [A-levels in the UK]. The other option is a trade or technical college – or no school at all.
Before going into a framhaldsskóli, kids have to pass standardized national exams. There’s usually a lot of competition for the top schools and the popular ones tend to go in and out of fashion – one year a particular school may be trendy, another year it will be another. Schools pick and choose their students and obviously the most in-demand ones are the most selective.
This year, the school with the most applications also happened to be the only true-blue prep school in the country, i.e. the only private upper-secondary school and also the only one that charges tuition fees. AAH, who has notoriously expensive taste, went for a visit there at the end of last school year and came home with stars in her eyes. The facilities were so gleaming new and shiny, the best of everything, and oh – it was all just so perfect. She completely set her sights on getting in – if she didn’t get accepted, she said, there was no point in her going to school at all. She’d just drop out and work. [She has a flair for the dramatic – what can I say?]
Anyway, she just scraped by on her grades – and in fact by the latest accounts hers were even slightly lower than the average, so the fact that she was accepted is a bit puzzling. I suspect it had something to do with her stellar turn in West Side Story a couple of years ago [and also a glowing recommendation from her former vice-principal, who adored her]. The prep school is renowned for its lavish annual musical productions … it’s well-known that they have the dosh to put on shows without having to cut any corners, and the fact that AAH has proven to have an aptitude in that area probably didn’t hurt.
Anyway, there’s a lot of money floating around the place – in fact it’s become one of the bastions of the Icelandic elite, which sadly is becoming more and more evident as the wage gap widens in this country. Predictably, there are stringent requirements for spending. In addition to the tuition fees, which are substantially higher even than the annual ‘registration’ fees at the University of Iceland, there appears to be no restraint when it comes to assigning textbooks, all of which must be purchased. This week so far the bill for books alone has come to ISK 40,000 [USD 616 / GBP 308], even though the majority were bought used and there’s still a handful outstanding on the list. [Meanwhile, the girl in the bookshop told us that she’d had to purchase books for ISK 8,500 (USD 131/ GBP 65) at her state school – quite the difference]. Laptops, too, are de rigeur, even though the school does not require them per se. And I’ll leave it to you to imagne the standards in fashion, hair, makeup, etc. [AAH gets up at 6 am to get ready to leave for school at 7.30 saynomore].
Not that I’m begrudging the cost. On the contrary, I’m delighted that AAH set her mind on achieving ‘the best’ and made it – I know it will boost her self-esteem and encourage her to keep striving for whatever she wants in the future, and as such it is absolutely invaluable. Plus, being among ‘the elite’ – as long as she keeps her chin up and her confidence high, which she is wont to do anyway – will hopefully only do her good. The year as a whole will be a challenge – the curriculum is demanding, and in addition to a full course of study she’s also moved up a notch at the Vocal Academy, where she started studying last year. This means seven hours a week in addition to her school studies, in vocal training, music theory and so on. [The Vocal Academy, incidentally, costs more than the prep school and books combined – and being the trouper she is, she’s paying for half of it herself, from her summer earnings]. The only thing that worries me a bit is that she also plans to keep her job on the side. After all [she maintains] she’ll need to find a way to finance all those designer clothes she needs to buy.
Very wet. In fact, AAH just went off to her first prep-school party holding a newspaper over her head [umbrellas are so passé]. Currently 11°C [55F] and the sun came up at 5:45 am, set at 9:13 pm.