Reps: All children should start school in September in classrooms

All restrictions established to alleviate the spread of the novel coronavirus should be set in a way that the quality of education and socialization should not be impeded, Minister of Education and Research Mailis Reps (Center) said in an interview with ERR on Tuesday.

We can not start off without the question of why guidelines to schools are only being issued now? Was the Ministry of Education not aware that school starts on September 1?

First off, we have specified quite a few things in the meantime. School - hopefully traditional school - starting on September 1 has been talked about since spring when we first moved online (because of the coronavirus emergency situation - ed.). I believe that on average, all parents are aware school will begin.

When it comes to the guidelines, that is a very specific document. It also touches the possible second wave and how to isolate infected teachers or students. We wish to do it before the academic year, that was also the desire of the specialists.

Can municipality governments establish stricter restrictions to supplement the ministry's recommended restrictions?

Principals of schools or kindergartens have the task of ensuring health requirements are followed, that was the case even prior to the coronavirus spreading. Our guidelines are recommendations and meant as supportive materials for principals and local governments.

But we must consider that if some regions - or even Estonia in general - sees a jump in infections, then the Health Board (Terviseamet) and the government has the right to set additional restrictions in some cases and to expand on them. However, for that to happen, a pandemic has to arise.

The current guidelines are recommendations, teachers and school managers know how to act in the current situation anyway.

The head of Tallinn Education Department has told ERR that the ministry could drop the restrictions but Tallinn falls under a different context. I understand it as there will be different regulations in different areas and it depends on the local government's understanding and whether they support a more conservative or more liberal approach.

Of course, schools and regions have their own circumstances, for example: How many special needs children are in the school. But different rules have to be objectively justified.

In the current situation, we can not say that Tallinn can not continue as usual, that is just not justified.

I believe that the guidelines developed along with specialists are suitable for all schools in Estonia. I sincerely hope that school managers understand that our desire is to start school on September 1, as normal.

Children must be able to interact, all restrictions have to be set so the quality of education would not suffer.

We have an example from spring, where Tallinn decided that children will not come to school and distance learning was conducted until the end of the academic year. Nothing will stop them from acting conservatively in the fall?

If we go back to spring, then the final act saw many children in Tallinn come back to school for additional lessons. Exam consultations were also held. A lot of smoke came out of Tallinn in regards to distance learning. The most conservative schools made exceptions, that was our goal.

Our infection indicators are currently low enough that all Estonian children should begin the school year with classes. There is no objective justification to continue with distance learning. The school must justify their need to make exceptions.

In the end, distance learning was not suitable for all children and parents. Teachers have also taken into account that a large part of fall will be spent on going over things done in spring. And doing that from a distance is much more difficult than in classrooms.

Parents must be prepared that if a child shows even the slightest signs of having a cold, they must stay home?

That is already established by the current regime, but in the current sensitive time - where we want to maintain the maximum amount of freedom - children who are ill are not permitted to go to school. The goal of the coming academic year is to pass the year as safely as possible for both students and teachers.

The government changed quarantine rules for people arriving from high-risk countries. If necessary tests are done, one does not have to stay home. This makes some parents think of traveling abroad for school breaks.

Unfortunately, the contents of the amendments have been communicated in an unclear manner. The government approved an exception for work and essential activities, like going shopping for supplies.

All other things, studying, partying, entertainment and just spending time outdoors are still forbidden. Taking a coronavirus test allows adults to proceed with their work.

If you and your children come from a high-risk country, the children must remain home for 14 days and can not go to school or kindergarten.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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