Estonian government rejects Kõlvart's claim that language requirements to be eased ({{commentsTotal}})

Russian-language schedules hung in a hallway at the Pärnu Russian High School. June 5, 2012. Source: (Ants Liigus/Pärnu Postimees/Scanpix)

The leaders of all three parties of Estonia's new ruling coalition on Thursday denied a claim recently made by Center Party politician and deputy mayor of Tallinn Mihhail Kõlvart that the requirements for Russian-language schools to teach individual subjects in Estonian could be eased.

"This must have been a communication error," said Prime Minister Jüri Ratas, who is also chairman of the Center Party, at a government pess conference. "Quite the contrary — we wish to step up language requirements."

Ratas explained that in accordance with the agreements reached during coalition negotiations, the new government intends to launch pilot programs that enable Russian-language schoos, on the basis of a request from the municipality, to have greater freedom in teaching Estonian, however by the end of high school, students will have to test for at least the C1 level of proficiency instead of the current B2 level.

"When the proficiency requirement is raised, we will be prepared to support these schools with money to even better orgnize language teaching, be it related to teachers or various study materials," said Ratas.

The same was said by the chairman of the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (IRL), Minister of Defence Margus Tsahkna, who emphasized that the requirement contained in the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act requirement for 60 percent of subjects to be taught in Estonian in Russian-language schools would not be changed.

"And if you look at the coalition agreement, there are specific amounts of money and deadlines contained within it specifically dedicated to teaching the Estonian language," Tsahkna added.

 The chairman of the Social Democratic Party, Miniter of Health and Labour Jevgeni Ossinovski, pointed out that when he appeared together with Kõlvart on a live Postimees broadcast a few weeks ago, the latter did not expres the opinions he did in his recent interview with Russian news agency Interfax.

"Kõlvart said about the same things here as Margus Tsahkna did just now, so you can check things over there," said Ossinovksi.

Tallinn deputy mayor claims language requriements to be eased

Earlier this week, Tallinn Deputy Mayor Mihhail Kõlvart told Russia's Interfax news agency that even though Russian-language education in Estonia was currently taking a step backward, the new, Center Party-led government coalition was ready to ease the requirements currently in force for the country's Russian-language high schools. He noted that difficulties existed at the high school stage, where the requirement that at least 60 percent of classes must be taught in Estonian has now been in effect since 2012, which means that Russian-language teachers must be capable of teaching complex subjects in Estonian.

Kõlvart told Interfax in an interview last week that the new Estonian government, led by Center Party Chairman Jüri Ratas, was ready to ease these requirements and that the government was prepared to review requests to this effect filed by school boards and municipalities, he noted.

"We will consider each case separately; there can be no formal approach to this," Kõlvart had told Interfax. "Legally, this means an application from the school board and the readiness of high schools and teachers." He did note at the time, however, that other means must simultaneously be sought that would enable students to master the Estonian language.

In 2010, the Riigikogu adopted the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act which required the transition to the teaching of at least 60 percent of subjects in Estonian in Russian-language high schools to be completed by the 2011/2012 academic year. The law allowed exceptions to be made to this requirement by government ruling at the request of municipalities.

Editor: Editor: Aili Vahtla

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