The directors of schools in Ida-Viru County whose language of instruction is Estonian have sought additional funding from the state to ensure quality education in a situation where an increasing number of students are attending who don't speak Estonian at home.
A total of 320 students attend Järve School, the only Estonian-language basic school in the city of Kohtla-Järve, population 35,000. Of these, 180 children do not speak Estonian at home — and the number of such students has been steadily increasing in recent years. One reason why is because the quality of some Russian-language schools in the area doesn't meet parents' expectations, reported ETV news broadcast Aktuaalne kaamera.
"We have to strengthen that supervision, and it's also understandable that parents have to be more demanding there," said Ministry of Education and Research Secretary General Mart Laidmets. "We also see that if a lot of Russian-speaking parents have sent their kids to Estonian-language schools, then clearly they aren't satisfied with the offered quality."
Students with different levels of language mastery need smaller class sizes in order to succeed in school. This in turn, however, requires greater financial resources.
Until now, Järve School has tapped its own internal reserves in seeking financing opportunities to ensure quality instruction. The school has reached the point, however, where there isn't enough money left anymore.
Järve School Director Anne Endjärv has calculated that the school would need approximately €100,000 in additional financial support per year.
"That should be enough to ensure that we can keep going," Endjärv said. "And actually it would be great if those pupils entering first grade could get support beforehand already."
As several other Estonian-language schools in Ida-Viru County are faced with the same concern, the schools turned to the Ministry of Education and Research for help. As the 2020 state budget is essentially set in stone already, officials at the ministry are seeking internal means of providing assistance to the schools next year already, Laidmets said.
The situation is also further complicated by the fact that the majority of extracurricular activities in the region operate in Russian. This means that the children in question only get Estonian language practice at school.
Endjärv admitted that the difficult situation is a cause of stress in some children, adding that additional funding would allow the school to better address the needs of children struggling in school.
Unless they money is found, the school may end up losing Estonian-language students.
"I have heard of students who aren't brought here to begin first grade, but are taken to another school instead, where things are more balanced," Endjärv said. "And I'd really like to hope that Estonian-language students don't end up in the role of orphan here. Rather it is the case that speakers of other languages are constantly falling a bit behind. The degree to which they end up behind continues to grow over the years, and it simply isn't possible without extra resources to help them catch up to their Estonian-language peers."
Editor: Aili Vahtla