14 SES 04 B, Rural Schools as Hubs for the Socio-educational Development of the Community (Part 1)
Symposium to be continued in 14 SES 05 B
Island studies, important in the history of science, have rarely focused on the role of small schools on offshore islands, not least because there is no agreed definition of a ‘small school’. Demographic trends and rationalization principles put increasing pressure on national, regional and local authorities to make consolidation choices about school size policies. In these considerations, diseconomic and disbenefit arguments are made pertaining to the retention of small schools. In Norway and Sweden, due to the geographical dispersion of the population, policy makers have accepted that in maintaining communities in sparsely populated areas higher costs associated with maintaining education in rural and remote areas are inevitable and acceptable, while Iceland views schooling in rural areas as a national responsibility. There is little information available about pupil outcomes in small multi-grade classes in the Irish context. Small schools are frequently objected to as being non-viable, being unable to provide an adequate curriculum, being socially disadvantageous and by being generally inefficient. While smaller schools face economies of scale there is evidence that small size yields some achievement advantages. How does a small island school promote the participation and engagement of families and the community? The present study examines the role played by the single primary school on one of Ireland’s offshore islands. While a process of “learning and leaving” is not an uncommon island experience, some studies have suggested that small rural schools can have integrative benefits for the local community helping to promote local vibrancy and community viability. In this descriptive case-study vulnerability mapping is used to expose threats to the island school. The dynamics of diaspora (dis)engagement and (dis)affection are examined through the curricula vitae of alumni. It is argued that the modern diaspora is uniquely different from the diaspora of earlier generations. The island school nurturing of local memories and histories is explored through the example of the schoolchildren’s annual Christmas concert. Demographic drivers such as birth rates and ageing population are examined. This island’s experience is as an example of the ‘new mosaic of rural regions’ in Europe, where communal sustainability, viability and vitality often hinges on the attractiveness of a particular living space. While perceived “attractive” environments may drive in-migration, the absence of a primary school would diminish the attractiveness of an island as a place for young families. The symbolic capital of island life is examined. Headship, local management and multi-grade teaching challenges are explored.
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