On the Perspectives of Small Rural Schools and Education Policy
The present article deals with the situation of rural schools, the forecast for the coming years and financing of schools from the state and local government budgets.
On the basis of the data provided, it can be claimed that financing of the system of education differs greatly in various counties. The level of financing is affected by different coefficients that are used to calculate the amount of funds coming from the state budget, as well as by the financing possibilities of local authorities. The calculations made by the authors display the following tendency: allocation of a larger proportion of funds by the state does not always guarantee proper financing of municipal schools. For example, in Ida-Virumaa the state’s share in the financing of municipal schools is the highest (62.5%); at the same time, the actual expenses per one pupil are the smallest in Estonia (8470 kroons). Similarly, in Järvamaa the share of financing by the state is also one of the highest (52.2%) and the calculated average sum per one pupil is one of the smallest (9718 kroons). In a special situation are municipal schools on the Estonian islands, especially the schools on small islands. The authors’ calculations show, accordingly, that on the small islands the average financing per pupil exceeds several times the respective indicators of schools on the mainland of Estonia.
An important conclusion is that the state is not to a significant extent responsible for the coping of small schools. Currently, the state has delegated the main responsibility for the functioning of the educational system to the lowest level (rural municipality), leaving at the same time the relevant tasks without financial cover. Rich local authorities are able to find necessary additional resources for educational expenses of local schools, poorer local authorities must, however, consider closing down schools. The financing of the national educational system and the level of teaching should not depend on whether the school is located in a rich or poor municipality. Important preconditions to be taken into account in financing should also be the educational policy priorities that have been decided both on the level of ministry and county (including regional goals, e.g. which areas definitely need a school, etc.). If decisions to open or close schools are made merely on the local authority level, it is impossible to treat the educational system as an integrated whole.
It is obvious that maintaining of a high-quality educational network in rural areas is much more expensive than in the city, and it is especially difficult to provide good education in a poor rural municipality. This, however, should not be a reason why poorer local authorities should eliminate the majority of smaller rural schools. Now there may arise a situation where rich local authorities can afford a well-functioning educational network while poor local authorities must use extreme measures to help schools survive or are forced to close down schools at all.
The possible reduction of the number of local authorities should also motivate restructuring of the educational system. Authorities at the county level should become more interested to decide what is the optimum school network and how many schools could expediently be maintained in a particular county, considering that the teachers have a sufficient work load, buildings can be maintained, school transport can be provided, etc.
The system of education is a national institution and the state should be responsible at all levels for its proper functioning and the provision of high-quality education.
Marika Kirch, born 1951, sociologist, University of Tartu 1975, Ph.D. Moscow Institute of Sociology 1984; training courses in sociology and European Union law in Estonia, USA, Germany, other. Work: senior researcher at the Institute of International and Social Research 1988-94, chief expert at the department of science and universities of the Estonian Ministry of Education 1995-97, adviser at the economic and social information department of the Riigikogu Chancellery 1997-. Affiliation: Estonian Sociologists Union, member of the Board.
Hilma Naaber, born 1949, industrial planning and management 1973 Tallinn Technical University, additional training in securities law in Frankfurt 1994-96. Work: 1991-98 chief specialist, head of service, adviser to the Secretary General at the Estonian Ministry of Finance, 1993-95 member of the founding committee of the Estonian Central Depository for Securities, 1998- adviser at the economic and social information department of the Riigikogu Chancellery, member of the editorial board of the Riigikogu Toimetised journal.