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Pain of dithesia can be soothed

Nearly 1,000 researchers gathered in Seville two weeks ago for a conference that mixed flamenco and flying cockroaches with a desire to fan awareness of their work across Europe. David Budge reports. Monothesia, dithesia and trithesia sound like mental states akin to amnesia. In fact, they are the Greek words for the one-teacher, two-teacher and three-teacher schools which state education departments throughout Europe too often forget.

Researchers who addressed a symposium on small rural schools came from as far afield as Ireland, Finland and Greece, but many of the problems they itemised were identical.

Increasing urbanisation and declining birth-rates have caused a sharp fall in the number of small country schools in Europe over the past 30 years. Rural communities that still have a school are determined to hold on to it, having seen the damage that a closure can cause, but their teachers too often suffer from professonal isolation and the benign neglect of their political and administrative masters.

A Greek researcher, E Tressou-Milona, assistant professor at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, said that although there had been a dramatic drop in the number of small schools there were still 1,786 one-class schools in Greece - a quarter of the national total. They were staffed by young teachers who had no previous experience and many applied for a less isolated post within a year.

"Services and incentives should be devised to support not only teachers but also other professionals and employees in their decision to live and work in these small, distant places," he said. "Today, teachers who are appointed to work in one-class schools feel anxious and apprehensive because they lack the appropriate training to deal with the teaching and administrative work assigned to them."

Professor Tressou-Milona said that many rural schools had barely enough money to cover their heating costs and lacked teaching aids and apparatus. Pilot computer projects that linked up small schools in Thrace and the Aegean islands held out the promise of a better future but there was no room for complacency.

"The small school is not threatened so much by the urbanisation of most parts of the countryside, as it is by the indifference of those in charge," Professor Tressou-Milona said.

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