This is part 2 of a series on the eskola txikiak. Wondering how to pronounce all those consonants? Check out part one here.
I went to a public high school with almost a thousand students. There were almost three hundred people in my graduating class and I was acquainted with about five of them. In many ways, it was its own self-contained ecosystem, teeming with established friend groups and heady teenage pheromones.
I attended similarly sized elementary and middle schools, always one among hundreds, and most of the people I knew grew up in similar educational environments. I knew smaller schools existed, but until the eskola txikia, I hadn’t encountered many.
There were 58 students aged two to eleven who were enrolled at the eskola txikia in Mendia the year I taught there; an average of 7.5 kids per grade level, counting the two cycles of infantil (ages 0-3 and 3-6) together with the six years of primaria (ages 6-12).
As for adults, there were five full-time teachers, four part-time teachers (including myself), two special education specialists who came once a week, and the (also part-time) lunch lady. With 70 people at the whole school, it probably goes without saying that the educational experiences had by the students at Mendia was nothing like my own.
The entire school was contained within a single two-story building, and used the town’s newly renovated frontón court for recess. It wasn’t quite a one-room schoolhouse, but it was pretty close.
What’s in a name: Small, rural schools
There’s no universally agreed upon measure of how big the student body needs to be in order for a school to be considered “small,” but with 58 kids and 12 adults, Mendia would fit any definition. Believe it or not, there are even smaller eskola txikia.
Although Mendia is located just off the main highway between Donostia-San Sebastián (pop. 186,000), the provincial capital, and Tolosa (pop. 19,000), the regional capital, it is considered to be rural. While there is some light industry around the town, most make their living on family farms, through agrotourism or the two sagardotegiak. In such areas, schools are central to keeping communities alive.
Since there can be negative connotations associated with the term “rural,” in English, the term small school is usually preferred. The same goes for Basque; eskola txikia literally means “small school.” However in Spanish, escuela rural, (rural school) is more common.
Small schools, big britches
In Spain, education pundits have accredited Castilla y León’s high PISA scores to its extensive network of so-called escuelas rurales. Small class sizes are often presented as the reason behind student success at small schools; in the US, there was a whole movement dedicated to that notion.
However, some argue that its not the individual attention that promotes success in small schools. Instead, it could be attributed to the increased classroom flexibility that comes with working in smaller groups. By working with tens of students instead of hundreds, small schools have the adaptability to test out new methodologies instead of relying on traditional textbook learning.
Because of this versatility, small schools have become known for being veritable laboratories of educational experimentation and innovation.
Small class sizes, such as those at the eskola txikia in Mendia, make implementing teaching methodologies based on active learning and social constructivism easier than at larger schools. Though these methods require more preparation and planning from teachers, reduced student bodies make using them in class more manageable.
Project-Based Learning is perhaps one of the most popular forms of active learning. A product of the “textbook method,” I was first introduced to the concept when I began working at Mendia, and immediately fell in pedagogical love.
Do you have any experience with small schools? Would you rather go to a school where everyone knows your name, or one where you can be cloaked in anonymity?
Stay tuned for Eskola Txikiak Pt 3: Three Languages, One School, Many Projects
(One-Room Schoolhouse: Historic Path of Cattaragus County)