Minister of Rural Affairs Arvo Aller has proposed school students could assist farmers in agricultural work during harvest season. But, education experts believe a student's job should be to learn.
Minister of Rural Affairs Arvo Aller (EKRE) believes that when it's time to harvest and there is a shortage of workers, no opportunities should be looked down upon. Schoolchildren, among others, might be able to help farmers out.
"High schoolers should have the chance to help out, should have the opportunity to harvest potatoes, cabbages, which provides physical exercise. And as PE classes as such don't exist anymore, this physical activity is reasonable and necessary for young men," Aller said.
"We are already taking into account that students have missed valuable materials while learning from distance and must make greater efforts to catch up next year. Sending students to do agricultural work in the middle of the academic year does not match that logic," chairman of the Federation of Estonian Student Unions Marcus Ehasoo said.
Mart Laidmets, Secretary General of the Ministry of Education and Research, agrees, saying that during the academic year, students should first and foremost be dedicated to studying. "Of course it cannot be ruled out that when the crops are rotting away, others have to help farmers out, but I'm not too sure that students should be at the forefront," Laidmets said.
"I harvested potatoes at the Aida collective farm back in my day, but this organization of work does not exist anymore. Positions should be filled by professionals and people with proper training, even if they are from foreign countries," he said, adding that present cannot be compared to the times of collective farms.
"It is easier for the employer to work with one group from morning until evening," potato farmer Kalle Hamburg said. "Days are lengthy during the harvest period. Children cannot be employed for such lengthy periods of time. The group has to be rotated and it will make organizing work much more complicated," Hamburg explained.
Chairman of the Union of Educational Advisers for Teachers Reemo Voltri says that the stance of the society will play a big role regarding the idea. "It might be accompanied by negative talks about the return of Soviet times at homes. If it is given such a background, this working education might have the opposite effect altogether. There should be in-depth debates on this," Voltri said.
Reps: No school holiday to be introduced for harvesting potatoes
Commenting on Aller's idea, Minister of Education and Research Mailis Reps (Center) said on Tuesday no separate school holiday will be introduced for students to assist in harvesting potatoes.
"The main activity of our children and young people, of which we are very proud of, is learning. Any other activities, including work, are of course welcome, if it is possible to engage in them in addition to learning. That means that working cannot interfere with learning," Reps said speaking at a press conference.
It would not be appropriate to give students time off from school for work similarly to, for example, school students working in a collective farm during the Soviet era, Reps said, adding that foreign workforce, which has thus far been widely been employed in the Estonian agricultural sector, cannot be replaced with students.
"There will not be a separate school holiday for harvesting potatoes," she said.
Aller made the comments in an interview with ERR which ERR will publish in full later this week.
Editor: Anders Nõmm