Bells Ring for Start of School Year
September 1, a day of knowledge with melancholy overtones for the boys and girls of summer, fell on a Sunday this year, allowing the traditional pageantry on the occasion to shine fully.
Cracking of books was still a day away as handbells were rung, the president issued his greetings on the occasion, police officers took up their stations as crossing guards, and an annual "Pax Scholastica" between schools and social partners was signed in hopes of engendering an atmosphere of mutual respect.
More than 135,000 are now enrolled in general educational schools, with 14,500 going off to school for the first time.
First-graders entering school are up 6 percent but the number of 10th graders is 11 percent off last year's pace. That accounted for the year's main trend of elementary school openings and upper secondary school mergers.
Estonia now has 201 upper secondary schools, a reduction from the 225 operating last year. Sixteen of the schools closed, and in several others, no tenth-graders started.
Eight new private schools opened, some of them Christian but not restricted to congregation members - in Tartu, St. Peter's; in Tallinn, St. Charles' and St. John's, for instance. The biggest ones are secular - the City Center Primary School in Tallinn and the European School, each with over 70 pupils. Monthly tuition ranges from 75 euros at St. Peter's to 400 euros at the European School.
Pomp and circumstance
Five new state upper secondary schools held a joint ceremony over video bridge with an address delivered by Education Minister Jaak Aaviksoo.
In his own traditional greeting to students, President Toomas Hendrik Ilves homed in on the end of summer theme and said Estonian schools should be "more cheerful places," requiring a contribution from parents, teachers and students.
Kuressaare, Saaremaa, was the city where this year's occasion was marked with a national-level ceremony. There the koolirahu (translatable as "Pax Scholastica") was signed by the Ministry of Education, the city, the Children's Protection Society and representatives of Estonian student government association.
The two new Christian schools in Tallinn integrated a benediction with their morning worship services.