The academic year got off to an edgy start this morning in Narva, where the students of the city's only Estonian-language school protested the Education Ministry's proposal to combine their school with a Russian-language one.
Students were seen with signs that said "By preserving the school, we will preserve Estonian spirit“ and "Say 'no' to merging the schools,“ reported uudised.err.ee.
In July, a leading developer of Estonia's education policy, Kalle Küttis, wrote to the City of Narva seeking a way to improve the Estonian of native Russian speakers. One proposal in the letter was to consider merging the local primary and secondary Estonian school with a language immersion school. The language immersion school has a greater emphasis on Estonian than traditional Russian schools (which now teach 60 percent of their curriculum in Estonian).
Although still only a proposal, the idea has been met with contention by some. The ministry said many Estonian-speaking students leave Narva after finishing primary school. Officials fear potential reform could aggravate the outflow, because opponents of a merged classroom setting say teachers would have to give more attention to native Russian speakers, dragging down the quality of education for native Estonian speakers.
Moreover, the 230-strong Estonian school will be outnumbered, as the Russian school has nearly twice as many students.
But in order for the merger to go through, the Narva City Council would first have to agree to transfer management of the school to the state government.
With a total of 12 schools, Narva, which borders Russia and is Estonia's third largest city, has a large ethnic Russian population. According to the 2011 Census, there are 1,371 native Estonian speakers and 56,132 native Russian speakers in Narva.