Education minister: Next academic year may start in mid-August

Mailis Reps on Wednesday's
Mailis Reps on Wednesday's "Otse uudistemajast". Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Education minister Mailis Reps (Center) says the next academic year could start in mid-August.

Speaking on ERR politics broadcast "Otse uudistemajast" Wednesday morning, Reps said that several schools had already planned to start in mid-August, meaning an August 15 general start date could be forthcoming.

Estonian schools traditionally start on September 1, but disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which resulted in schools being closed from March 16 and children learning online, makes an earlier start date more attractive.

The official start of the school year would still be September 1, under Reps' plan, but schools would start earlier in an effort to plug the gaps which have arisen during the remote learning period.

Guidance was already being issued in consultation with the schools, should the coronavirus make a resurgence in the fall, Reps added.

"One point of discussion is that a lot of schools operate on a so-called 'cabinet' system, which came out very clearly when one case appeared at the Kristiine school (one of the early COVID-19 cases, a few days before the emergency situation was declared-ed.)."

"Vocational training centers have said that they are already thinking about how to isolate certain groups by the autumn. Higher education institutions have said that they will start to vigorously scale-back common areas. In this way, with separate buildings, the whole university need not be closed [in the event of an outbreak]," she went on.

"In respect of autumn, the great hope of all of us is to be able to isolate locally."

Reps said that unfortunately, in the conditions of the deepening economic crisis, no bonuses for coping with the realities of the crisis were likely to be forthcoming for teachers.

Another negative side-effect of online remote learning through the pandemic has been an uptick in the incidence of cyberbullying, the minister said, adding the ministry had been monitoring both children's mental health and welfare, and any domestic violence reports, carefully. These had only occurred in isolated cases and were not directly caused by the crisis, she said.

Online learning during the emergency had required a great effort for both parents and school leaders, Reps said.

As to the end of this academic year, the traditional graduation ceremonies at the end of May are not going ahead, at least not in their full form with families attending, she said.

"Schools and parents have taken differing stances here. There are a lot of people who are fundamentally opposed to a child not attending a graduation ceremony at all this year," she said, adding that as a general rule, parents are not being invited to the event.

Reps also noted that younger children could attend school for as long as possible, given virologists' information. Kindergartens remained in operation throughout the pandemic.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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