Weirdly, what better way to break down a hotly contested issue we face in the United States than to take it to an extreme location, let’s say somewhere remote, like a village in Norway. The issue at hand is overcrowded schools, and the film is Solveig Melkeraaen’s documentary short, The School By The Sea.
The writer/director focuses on elementary school children Tilde and Thorvin. The film opens with them walking through the now empty and abandoned Strengelvag School. The pair entered several years ago as the school’s first-grade class, and the school’s enrollment hasn’t grown much since. Because of low enrollment, the government decided to permanently close Strengelvag along with the dozens of other schools each year for similar reasons.
“Because of low enrollment, the government decided to permanently close Strengelvag…”
The School By The Sea takes us back a few weeks before the end of the school year, and we witness Tilde and Thorvin’s joy-filled interactions with their fellow students. In interviews, the two discuss school life and riff on various subjects that they learned. The last day of class is bittersweet as the students will have to take a bus to the much larger school, where their biggest fear seems to be getting lost in the crowd. The school’s closing is not handled well, and neither is the future of schools like this.
The School By The Sea indirectly touches on low student/teacher ratios as a means of effective learning. Melkeraaen never explicitly addresses the problem with Norway’s education system, but it’s not too far off from the problem faced by dense cities in the States. I got the sense that shutting down Strengelvag is a move in the wrong direction, and there’s no turning back.
"…touches on low student/teacher ratios as a means of effective learning."