The Ministry of Education has accepted an application to open a private school in the vicinity of Reaalkool, one of Estonia’s best public schools, bearing a similar name and founded by the same board members. The decision has drawn criticism from education officials and other private schools.
Education Minister Jaak Aaviksoo said on Wednesday that the ministry had issued a permit, saying that there was no legal basis to reject the application, but adding that the precedent could threaten free basic education in the country.
Aaviksoo said that Parliament should change the Private Schools Act to allow the ministry to reject these types of applications on other grounds.
“Estonian education and political elites must find a way to avoid the widening of an education gap, and stop good education from becoming synonymous with private education,” a ministry press release said.
Reaalkool, known in English as Tallinn Secondary Science School, is one of the most prestigious basic and secondary education institutions in the country. What the ministry fears is that if Reaalkool turns even partially private, other elite schools will follow suit, shutting out poorer families from the best schools in the country.
Other private schools have also been up at arms, saying that the school, named Kesklinna Reaalkool, will benefit from the reputation of its parent school.
“The name and background account for 50 percent of a school’s reputation, with teachers making up 25 percent, the principal 15 percent and material values - like buildings and teaching tools - the remainder. With this project, 90 percent of the value of a school will be transferred from a public to private school,” Rein Rebane, head of the private Rocca al Mare school, told Eesti Päevaleht in May.
It is not yet known to what extent the two institutions will cooperate.
Last year, over 600 children applied for a first grade spot at the Reaalkool, which could accept only two classrooms full of students. The high demand inspired the founding of the new school.