According to the National Audit Office, although the number of children in Estonia is decreasing, there is a shortfall of more than 2,300 nursery school places in 45 local governments in Estonia as of early 2015, half of which are located in Harju and Tartu counties.
The National Audit Office finds that although the situation has improved considerably over the last years, there is still a big shortage of nursery school places in local governments with growing populations. Better cooperation with the private sector could resolve this problem and several local governments have already opted for this.
Auditors also found that the waiting list for nursery school places must be made visible to parents, and the strict legal norms regarding the positions and numbers of employees with which nursery schools can be operated should be eliminated.
The number of children waiting for a place in a municipal child care institution as at the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015 was around 16,100. The number of children to whom the local government had actually been unable to provide a nursery school place was 2,335. That is around 3 percent of the total number of children aged 1-6, divided between 45 local governments, half of which are located in Harju and Tartu counties.
For example, the number of children left without places was around 400 in Tallinn, 300 in Viimsi, 280 in Saue municipality.
The problem is mostly faced by local governments where the number of residents has grown rapidly. The local governments either failed to see the impact this would have, did not react adequately to the situation, or made a mistake in setting their priorities.
Yet the analysis also showed that local governments have been actively combat the problem in recent years. New places have been created and the situation is improving. This trend will continue in the coming years and there are also plans to use EU grants to create around 3,200 additional places. However, as the number of children in Estonia is starting to decrease, the demand for nursery school places will presumably start going down as well.
Some local authorities have also reduced the shortage of nursery school places in cooperation with the private sector by providing financial support to private child care institutions. This means that the expenses of the families are the same irrespective of whether the child has a place in a municipal nursery school or a private nursery school, which receives support from the local government’s budget.
The audit also found that with local governments struggled to fill the number of positions required by the state. In general, compliance with the requirements set for the composition of staff was poor in 2014. Only 10 of the 183 audited institutions had employed enough people to fill all of the positions inspected during the audit. For example, all of the eight audited local governments had a shortage of speech therapists, seven did not have enough health workers, and six lacked physical education teachers and music teachers.
In Estonia, children usually go to primary school at the age of 7. The under-7 year olds have the right for a nursery school place. The good accessibility of nursery school places is important for the development of children, but also creates opportunities for many families to improve their ability to cope economically, allowing parents to return to the labour market and earn a living for the family.
In 2014/2015 academic year, 653 pre-school child care institutions operated in Estonia, 594 of which were municipal ones. In addition, there are 396 licenced child care service providers, 29 of which are municipal institutions.
Editor: M. Oll