Academic journal article Review of European Studies

What Is the Future of Village Schools? A Case Study on the Life Cycle of a School in Northern Finland

Academic journal article Review of European Studies

What Is the Future of Village Schools? A Case Study on the Life Cycle of a School in Northern Finland

Article excerpt

Abstract

This micro-historical research reveals what happened in the village of Aapajärvi located in a sparsely populated municipality in northern Finland since the school was established and since it disappeared. In this article, the following questions are studied: How was it possible to establish and build an elementary school in a remote and roadless village in poor circumstances at the time of post-war reconstruction and how did the situation of the Aapajärvi School change along the societal changes in Finland? The data of this research comprises both archival sources (e.g. proceedings of the Aapajärvi School board meetings, diaries) and interview data among former teachers and pupils of the school and villagers. In the conclusion, the significance of village schools and their development as a part of functional and equal education overall will be dissected. Small schools could offer a good option to the development of pupil-centered teaching and learning.

Keywords: Village schools, School history, Multigrade education

1. Introduction

This article tells the story of the birth and abolition of one small village school in northern Finland. Our micro-historical research reveals what happened in the village of Aapajärvi, located in a sparsely populated municipality (986 inhabitants; 0.54 inhabitants per square km = 1.40 people per square mile, July/2011), since the school was established and since it disappeared. The village of Aapajärvi was a typical settled area in Finnish Lapland, located in the province of Lapland, in the municipality of Pelkosenniemi (see Figure 1). The village is comprised of few sparsely located households. The school was established in Aapajärvi in 1946. At that time, the school building symbolized the new and better future, stability after the uncertainty caused by the World War II. In 2011, the deteriorated school building tells what happened during those thirty fife years since the abolition of the school.

In 1921, the act on compulsory education came into operation in Finland. According to the law, there had to be enough schools per municipality so that children's school commute would not be longer than five kilometers (app. 3 miles) (Viljanen, 1998). The number of children coming to school and settlement expanding in the different parts of Finnish municipalities in the 1950s increased the number of village schools. Due to the change in industrial life, people moving to the cities, and family sizes becoming smaller, the number of students decreased in the 1960s and 1970s resulting in the abolition of many village schools (Kalaoja, 1988; Kuikka, 1996; Viljanen, 1998). Economic reasons were considered as justification for the abolition of schools (Kalaoja, 1988).

For a pupil, the abolition of school means losing a natural connection to one's own village and school (Kuikka, 1996; Teirikangas and Tolonen, 2002). Therefore, when planning abolition, we should worry about village children and youngsters who are not given the opportunity to be rooted in their own village or to learn to know each other (Smith and DeYoung, 1988; Korpinen and Mielonen, 2005).

This article is a micro-historical research which is based on versatile original and archival sources. However, as a micro-historical study, it cannot produce very generalizable results. Instead, the purpose is to provide a thick description of the matter and explain its relevance from the international perspective as well. In the conclusion, we will dissect the significance of village schools and their development as a part of functional and equal education in overall. In addition, suggestions concerning teacher education and teachers' possibilities to work in small village schools will be presented.

2. Village Schools as Seats of Learning

By a village school, we refer to a grade school with grades 1-6 and where the number of pupils is less than fifty. During the last decades, plenty of village schools have been closed down in Finland. …

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