Teachers unions flag shortage crisis and issues with education ministry

Madis Somelar, head of Tallinna Realkool.
Madis Somelar, head of Tallinna Realkool. Source: ERR

Teachers' unions met in the town of Paide at the weekend to discuss final details to a strategic partnership agreement with the Ministry of Education and Research, on good inclusion practices.

The unions, together forming the teachers unions' cooperation think tank (Õpetajate Ühenduste Koostöökoja Mõttekoda), an NGO representing some 20 unions, say that the ministry still holds all the cards in the power relationship, which isn't entirely a good thing despite some good work it has done, they say.

Under the proposed strategic partnership agreement, the organization is required to coordinate several pieces of legislation relating to education, while at the same time contributing to the promotion of teacher cooperation at county level, its representatives said.

The organization said that cooperation at county level (coming into effect from January 1 2018-ed.) had decreased significantly following the abolition of county governments, exacerbated by changes in certification introduced in 2013.

At the same time, the Ministry of Education and Research had exhibited a good level of engagement, the organization said.

"A partnership means respecting the other party. So far, the Ministry of Education and Research has been in a strong position of engagement with the teaching staff," the chamber said in a statement issued Monday, according to ERR's online news in Estonian.

"Good governance is inclusive, transparent and takes the views of partners into account. Teaching staff need not only to have their views heard, but also taken into account," said Pille Rohtla, vice chair of the Estonian history and community teachers association (Eesti Ajaloo- ja Ühiskonnaõpetajate Selts).

On February 11, 2020, the education ministry sent out an invitation to some union representatives to discuss the proposed changes to the organization basic school final exams as early as February 14.

"In this way, it is not possible to plan their work adequately with students and to engage members of the subject groups in substantive discussions and in the formulation of positions," said Hele Kiisel, Vice President of the Estonian mathematical society (Eesti Matemaatika Selts).

Over the past six months, leaders of teachers' unions have met with all Riigikogu parties, several ministers and the Mayor of Tallinn. 

These meetings were aimed at raising awareness among politicians of the major challenges within the field, which, according to the unions, is the issue of the sustainability of teaching staff and the retention of national primary school exams to verify educational standards and achievement.

A seminar at Tallinn University, last week reiterated the major challenge facing education is a shortage of teachers.

The examples of concerns that headteachers attending the seminar brought were very worrying, said Madis Somelar, head Tallinn secondary school Tallinna Reaalkool said.

"There have been no physics lesson at one vocational school for the past two weeks since there is simply no teacher in the field," Somelar said.

"In another, there is only one qualified math teacher who has to mentor unqualified substitute teachers and give 30 subject hours per week," he added.

The issue of an insufficient number of teachers entering in the profession to replace retirees and other leavers has long been in focus.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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