Lauri Hussar: From the school crisis to the coronavirus crisis and back
The months preceding the coronavirus crisis were a nightmare for many local governments as schools, communities and school managers found themselves in a sharp confrontation with one another. The school organization crisis requires analysis and steps to be taken to restore peace, Lauri Hussar (Estonia 200) writes.
The legendary Winston Churchill supposedly said that a good crisis should not be allowed to go to waste. This famous sentence is used whenever society is facing hardship and needs to pull together and change attitudes to plan and execute a lot of things differently.
Schools in Estonia have been closed and children ordered to study at home from Monday. A crisis that has paralyzed everyday life has also given us the chance to look within ourselves and around us.
I dare hope that parents who now have much more contact with school life because of children studying from home think more about studying and school organization than the regular logistics of getting the kids to school and back home again. It would also pay to ponder what modern school organization should be like and whether rules currently in effect are enough to ensure it.
School organization crisis
The past few months that preceded the coronavirus crisis have been a nightmare for many local governments because schools, communities and school operators have found themselves in sharp confrontation with one another. This kind of school organization crisis requires analysis and steps to restore peace.
The state has tasked local governments with operating schools, with private schools and the increasingly centrally managed secondary education the only exceptions. Because the vast majority of Estonian schools are controlled by local politicians, they are run based on the latter's know-how and motivation.
Unfortunately, it is this fact that has contributed to education inequality as there are those who have made investing into education a priority and those who only do what's required by law.
We also haven't ruled out situations where the school and its head have been motivated by local politics and interests of politicians. A situation where the local government, school and community are sinking deeper into conflict means that the latter needs more say in matters pertaining to school life. Communities are becoming increasingly aware, demand to be involved and are no longer content to merely look on at the incompetence of schools and the local governments in charge of them.
Time to consider important questions
Last week, the Riigikogu was handed a public initiative that, if turned into legislation, would give school boards broader powers when it comes to appointing and removing principals.
We have already heard criticism that should the proposal pass, local governments would no longer be in charge of anything. This argumentation points to a desire to see schools as an appendage of local authority and not as community projects where schools and parents play an important role.
We can say that because local governments can manage their real estate, taking care of the school building should be a feasible task for them. When it comes to organizing school life, appointing principals and exercising supervision, they would do well to work together with the community because we do not need any more school families traumatized by incompetent management.
Inclusive democracy is becoming increasingly important in organizing local life, which is why legislation must keep up. Major confusion caused by the coronavirus crisis and solving it are certainly the legislator's priorities for the time being. Time away from daily tasks provided by the crisis, however, gives us time to consider several matters and find balanced solutions.
Parents' interest in the organizational side of school life is here to stay, which is why it would be sensible for the parliament to listen to the people through the public initiative mechanism this time.
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Editor: Marcus Turovski