Basque Fact of the Week: Ikastolas, the Basque Schools

Basque is an ancient language, predating the Indo-European languages of Europe that surround it. Despite this long history, it is only recently that Basque has become a literary language, with a healthy, if small, corpus of written works. Perhaps even more surprising is that the formal teaching of subjects in the Basque language is not so very old. Education in Euskara began just over 120 years ago.

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  • One of the first attempts to create a school that focused on education in Basque was by Resurreccion María de Azkue, who, sometime around 1896, founded the Ikastechea College. This school was exclusively for boys and men, and focused not so much on teaching subjects in Basque but rather the teaching of the language itself.
  • The first Ikastola, or Basque-language school, was founded in 1914 by Miguel de Muñoa in San Sebastián. The school, called Koru’ko Andre Maria’ren Ikastetxea, taught both elementary and kindergarten kids, and all subjects were in the Basque language. By the time of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, more than 12 other ikastolas were created throughout Hegoalde.
  • After the Spanish Civil War, speaking Basque, and thus the ikastolas, were made illegal. However, ikastolas continued their mission of education in the Basque language clandestinely. In 1943, Elvira Zipitria, who had fled to Laburdi during the war, returned to establish a school in Donostia, a school that was hosted in the house of one of the families. She also established a classroom in her own house, but it was very austere, such that one wouldn’t even know it was a classroom. She never had more than ten students and instruction in Euskara was only for two hours a day. However, her efforts, and the subsequent efforts of others, were the seed that led to the current Basque-language education system.
  • Today, tens of thousands of children attend ikastolas on both sides of the French-Spanish border. In Hegoalde, half of the students have Spanish as their mother tongue. In 1998, an ikastola, Boiseko Ikastola, was even established in Boise, Idaho, the only Basque-language preschool outside of Euskal Herria.

Primary sources: Wikipedia; Garmendia Lasa, María Carmen [et al.]. Ikastola. Enciclopedia Auñamendi, 2019. Available at: http://aunamendi.eusko-ikaskuntza.eus/es/ikastola/ar-73307/

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