A bill that would have allowed the school day to start before 9 a.m. only with permission from the school board, urged schools to avoid teaching in two shifts and lengthened lunch breaks to 30 minutes will likely not enter into force in planned form as these matters require further talks between the education ministry, schools and local government representatives, Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik said.
The working group assembled for updating school health protection regulations put forward a set of proposals in September of 2018, including moving the start of the school day forward one hour, lifting the ban on homework in the first grade and allowing multiple shifts only with permission from the school board. The working group also proposed regulating the number of tests more effectively.
Social minister at the time Riina Sikkut (SDE) hoped the bill could enter into force on January 1, 2020.
Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik (Center) told ERR that these questions have been discussed with the Ministry of Education and Research based on what would be best for the well-being and health of students. Concerning moving the school day forward, Kiik said classes cannot start too late as parents need to be able to take their children to and from school and to hobby activities.
"The education ministry feels that the right to make such decisions should be given to municipal and state school boards so as not to regulate too many things on the legislative level," he said.
Kiik said that the length of lunch breaks is a problem in some places, while schools have different approaches.
"There are schools where the lunch break is very short, meaning only a small number of students can use the cafeteria at any one time, in turn meaning that lunch breaks start at different times for different grades – some take lunch in the morning so to speak, while others do it toward the end of the school day."
While the ministry wants to avoid such situations, it is up to school boards to draw attention to them, and the question to which extent such things should be fixed on the level of regulations remains.
The social ministry and the education ministry have discussed different practices – some schools have opted for a more flexible solution when it comes to lunch breaks, where the break is longer for those whose turn it is to eat, meaning that classes do not start at fixed times for everyone. However, this complicates the school's work organization.
"The schedule needs to be adjusted in a way to avoid the school day taking longer for some students, but it can be managed with enough willpower," Kiik said.
Asked about students attending school in two shifts, the minister said that schools' work organization is the domain of the education ministry, while its counterpart responsible for social affairs rather deals with aspects that concern students' health and catering. Kiik emphasized that some schools have no such problems.
The social minister said that all these questions deserve to be discussed at a calm pace with the Ministry of Education and Research, schools and representatives of local governments.
"The social ministry is not planning major changes in its administrative area when it comes to schools from September 1 this year," Kiik assured.
When the social ministry first unveiled its plans last year, the Ministry of Education and Research said the former should limit its regulation to concepts not defined in other acts or guidelines, such as school fatigue, study preparedness etc. The education ministry was critical of plans, describing them as overregulation.
Editor: Marcus Turovski