Government to discuss partially reopening schools


The government is set to discuss partially reopening schools during a meeting on Thursday, while there is no certainty a decision will be made then.

Does anyone know what will happen with high school final exams? If they are canceled because of the coronavirus crisis, with universities holding entry exams later in summer, what will happen to graduates who are undergoing compulsory military service by then?

Sixteen graduating classes from all over Estonia have signed up for compulsory military service together. The Defense Resources Board's medical examiners have deemed the students fit to undergo training and the students know they will become conscripts in July. But they are supposed to take and pass their final exams and graduate from high school first, with most also looking to attend university after military service.

All of it has now been called into question, just as it has for all students set to graduate this year, around 2,000 of whom should be headed for military service.

Schoolhouses have been closed for three weeks and students sent to study from home. Neither the government nor the Ministry of Education and Research have decided when schools could be at least partially opened again or what will become of high school final exams.

Denmark plans to open elementary schools next week as the start of gradually lifting coronavirus restrictions on movement.

Deputy Secretary General of the Ministry of Education and Research Robert Lippin admitted that the ministry has weighed different scenarios but chose not to share them with the public at this time.

"It will depend on models by virologists and mathematicians when the right time will be to lift some of the restrictions, one of which is remote learning," Lippin told journalists during a press conference on Tuesday, admitting, however, that holding final exams would be very difficult if schools were to remain closed until the end of May.

Ministers discussed the same topic – when to partially reopen schools – on Tuesday. While the date of May 15 was suggested, no decision was made during the meeting.

While May 15 seems too far away and elementary and high school students could return to normal schoolwork sooner, fear that a new wave of infection could follow is holding back decisions.

The government is set to return to the question of opening schools on Thursday. By then, it should also become clearer whether state examinations will be held this year and when. Some ministers, referring to themselves as realists, are less than convinced a decision will be made on Thursday.

Robert Lippin remains hopeful. "We are trying to keep an optimistic outlook in terms of remote learning ending sooner and students being able to take state exams," he said.

Universities and vocational higher education providers are willing to make extraordinary changes to their internal rules, a joint address by higher education institutions from Monday read. The document has been signed by Chairman of the Estonian Council of Rectors Mait Klaassen on behalf of public universities, Rector of Estonian Business School Arno Almann and Chairman of the Council of Rectors of Vocational Higher Education Schools Ülle Ernits on behalf of vocational higher education providers.

"Universities are prepared to make conditional admissions decisions in a situation where graduation documents could be delayed for high school, bachelor's and master's students. Based on what we know today, universities are planning admissions for the regular period and will hold entrance exams irrespective of whether state examinations are held," the address reads.

Higher education providers could not say to which extent the crisis will alter admissions criteria for specific curricula and whether the time by which admissions decisions need to be made will change.

It also remains unclear, should state exams be canceled this year, whether high school graduates would have to retake exams next year or the one after that if they want to go to the university.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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