Small schools under shadow of axe

10 July 2014

«If school goes, life goes – from a village or a commune.» This, according to think-tank Praxis analysis on Estonian schools network, is a widespread statement on why Estonia keeps keeping alive its schools with few students. The same study claims the reasoning amounts to superficial simplification: a school alone will not breathe life into a region.

Not surprisingly at all, as seen in today’s Postimees, local governments regard the Praxis study and education ministerial pressure to thin schools network as ignorance on local issues.

Own school matters. Defying the negative circumstances, it is fought for till the end. A schoolhouse is a sign, standing for regional traditions, customs, and pride.

Quite often, decision to close the beloved local school may trigger citizen activism, local people confronting the bigwigs from county centre or the very Tallinn arriving on the scene with their dry Excel table thinking.

And, at times, the fight might be noble and right, sometimes even successful. After all, people may miss it with fertility and migration predictions.

Even so, regrettably, for the main part the premises for Praxis study are correct, probably. In near future, the Estonian schools network is headed towards the cull, not growth. Sure: this won’t hit all at once, and there are the counties which, in the next several years, will be perhaps be spared the axe.

As National Audit Office did its 2013 study on state owned schools recent investments, it discovered that what costs the society most is bad decisions: lots of money is spent, including foreign investments to where there’s no real perspective. The same danger may lurk behind local governmental schools-decisions.

According to Praxis’ reckoning, Estonian optimal basic schools amount would be 352 by 2020 – not a too distant future. This is a whopping 132 schools less than we now have. The think-tank also points to unwise waste of money. Instead of keeping a two-dozen-student school on life support, why not channel the funds into raising some larger school’s level and teachers’ wages.

In real life, however, a school close to home is what people aren’t willing to give up. And that makes movements towards the Praxis optimum difficult.

The most damaging for local governments and the state, however, is the lack of clarity and the resulting insecurity. With a picture painted before them of how much education money that stand to get, local leaders may be better equipped to assess options.

Source: Editorial: small schools under shadow of axe, PM