While the number of children with speech impairments has doubled over the past decade, half of kindergartens in the capital city of Tallinn, for example, lack their own speech therapist.
While there are 556 public kindergartens in the country, a total of just 370 speech therapists work at pre-school childcare institutions throughout Estonia; meanwhile, of the 10,290 children in Estonia in need of speech therapy as of last year, only 8,386 received it, writes daily Eesti Päevaleht (link in Estonian).
The shortage is attributable to several factors, including a lack of competitive pay which is not keeping up with the increase in Estonia's average wage, as well as new speech therapists not entering the job market as quickly as those leaving it, thus increasing the shortage.
Nele Labi, director of the Educational Guidance Agency at Foundation Innove, noted that the increase in speech impairments can be attributed in part to parents speaking less with their children, stressing that parents need to talk to their children when they are as young as babies already, as hearing speech is key to their own later speech development.
According to Estonian Logopedists' Union (ELÜ) board member Annika Suurküla, children with speech impairments need therapy at the kindergarten level, noting that any later therapy can be considered emergency care and is more difficult for the speech therapist and child alike, but by law, a full-time speech therapist can only help an average of 30 kindergarten students at once.
Editor: Aili Vahtla