Reps: Laws related to distance learning should be changed

Minister of Education and Research Mailis Reps (Center) wants to change laws related to distance learning making it only possible when there is a real threat or a proposal from the Health Board.

Speaking at the government's press conference on Thursday, Reps said there are no new coronavirus restrictions planned which are related to schools or kindergartens.

She said the government has been keeping a close eye on schools which are moving their pupils to distancing learning at short notice or have not been in line with the Health Board's advice. Reps said some schools have acted disproportionately.

Reps said many parents have turned to the ministry over the new restrictions. "It confuses the whole family," she said.

An example is Tallinn's Old Town Educational College (VHK) which tried to make wearing facemasks mandatory, which was later downgraded to a recommendation.

The Ministry of Education and Research and the Chancellor of Justice have also had to deal with schools which ordered children to distance learning when they do not meet the criteria.

An example is Jüri High School in Rae municipality which moved 1,300 children to remote learning on Thursday after a canteen worker tested positive for COVID-19 but had not worked at the school in recent days.

"If there is no real risk of infection at school, in the sense that a school employee, for example, has given a positive corona test but has not been to school in the last few days or does not have what the health board considers to be close contacts. It is not a proportionate response because it does not take into account the specificities of the children," Reps explained.

Reps said that when children are directed to distance learning, the quality of education must also be considered first and foremost. She said Tallinn University is carrying out research into the topic, which will be completed in the spring, but it can already be seen that it does not benefit all children equally. Reps highlighted children without much family support or with learning difficulties.

Reps also said the law probably needs to be changed to regulate distance learning. Currently, the law states it is equivalent to in class learning.

"Our suggestion is that e-learning from a health perspective should be linked to a real pandemic threat or a proposal from the Health Board," Reps said. "When we talk about e-learning as a form of learning, we would like to set very strict rules for it. There must be equal access to teaching resources and many other aspects."

Reps said that until the law is changed, the ministry can only give instructions to schools, but not orders, meaning distance learning is decided by each school's principal. 

 Not every member of the Center Party agrees with Reps.

Tallinn Mayor Mihhail Kõlvart (Center) said on Wednesday that primary school children must attend school at all times but it was correct to move older children in the capital to partial distance learning as a preventative measure.

"The purpose of these preventive measures and partial distance learning is to keep schools open. Not to close schools," Kõlvart said.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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