Education ministry: High schools in remote learning best option for society

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An empty classroom (photo is illustrative). Source: Juhan Hepner/ERR

Starting Monday, all high school classes in Tallinn, Harju County and Ida-Viru County have to turn to remote learning until January 10, as that is the least bothersome option for society, Ministry of Education and Research Secretary-General Mart Laidmets said.

The government's decision on Monday affects 86 schools and 12,500 students. One of those is the Tallinn Kesklinn Russian High School, with more than 200 high schoolers. The school has already closed two classes with the remaining students wearing masks, ETV's daily affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" reported on Monday.

School director Sergei Teplov said the first COVID-19 cases came from the school's hobby groups. He added that while the same group of students come to contact with each other in school, hobby groups congregate students from all over.

"Once they exit the school, to malls or hobby groups, the group changes and there are more infections," Teplov said.

Education ministry Secretary-General Mart Laidmets said that hobby group activities were not suspended to retain mental health and to not create a situation where students cannot move around at all. Up to ten people can participate in hobby groups, as of the government's decision.

Teplov noted that distance learning in spring affected students' results and it would be better to develop a hybrid form of studying, with contact and distance learning alternating.

Hendrik Agur, director of Kohtla-Järve High School in Ida-Viru County, said he wishes the government would look at schools separately. He wrote an application to Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) on Saturday, asking for an exemption to continue with contact learning.

"We see that for us - with 80 percent of students having Russian as their native language and studies being in Estonian - if there is no support from the Estonian study environment, it could have a devastating effect on some students," Agur explained.

While the primary choice of school directors is contact learning, high schools are making preparations to go to distance learning starting Monday. This however increases the work load for teachers, as many teach in high school and grades below as well.

Peter Pedak, director of Tallinn French Lyceum, said: "The work load for teachers will increase either way, because distance classes are not immediately transferable from regular classes."

The school director recommends the government already think how high school students can return to their studies from January 10. "I think one of the necessary decisions is a mask-wearing obligation in high schools. At least based on my school, students are ready for it," Pedak said.

Secretary-General Laidmets explained that the decision to send high schools to remote learning comes from lessons learned from spring. "Let's say that sending them to distance learning is least bothersome for study organization, but on the other hand, they are grown enough and parents do not have to assist them at home. It does not affect other society as much," he said.

Laidmets added that requiring students wear masks alone would not have stopped the virus from spreading.

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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