The Cultural Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu has reached an impasse in debates regarding proposed changes to the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act and will be postponing making any decisions regarding the matter. Members of the committee don't understand why there is interest in making the civics exam mandatory if only 15 students have taken it in order to gain Estonian citizenship.
Under discussion in the committee was a proposal by the Ministry of Education and Research to separate a current bill into two distinct parts, allowing the fate of current basic school exams to be discussed distinctly from the part involving applying for citizenship.
"I understand that it has been agreed upon in the coalition that they will move forward urgently with the citizenship matter and that the basic school exam issue will be back-burnered for now," said Cultural Affairs Committee alternate member Liina Kersna (Reform).
Kersna added that if this bill is passed by Jan. 1, all 9th graders will be saddled with one more mandatory exam — a civics exam — and those who do not have Estonian citizenship would be eligible after taking this exam to apply for citizenship.
"It is currently the case that a graduate of basic school has to take three exams — a mandatory Estonian language exam and math exam, and at least one elective exam," she explained. "Most choose a foreign language exam, but 23 percent chose the civics exam."
In other words, until now, the civics exam was optional. The committee, however, found that making the civics exam compulsory was justified.
"Even now, within the current system, one can apply if the student wants to become a citizen," said committee member Viktoria Ladõnskaja-Kubits (Isamaa).
Minister of Education and Research Mailis Reps (Centre) said on Monday that she was unable to respond yet whether students may really be saddled with yet another mandatory exam.
"Unfortunately I don't know how to respond to that yet," Reps said. "These nuances were not talked about and cleared up yet today. I'll be able to tell you tomorrow what exactly it will end up being."
According to the minister, only a handful of students have taken the civics exam in order to apply for Estonain citizenship.
"The number has increased somewhat in recent years — if I'm not mistaken, then over ten or 15," she said.
Following a coalition council meeting to take place an hour later, it was revealed that no changes would be made to the bill on Tuesday. Ladõnskaja-Kubits noted that unlike the minister's position, there is no consensus on the matter within the coalition.
Editor: Aili Vahtla