New Minister of Education and Research Jaak Aab confirmed on ETV's politics talk show "Esimene stuudio" on Thursday that MEP Yana Toom (Center), Tallinn mayor Mihhail Kõlvart (Center) and MP Katri Raik (Social Democrats) were also approached for the position.
The former public administration minister said that as he was out of town, there were not many consultations with him last weekend when the government was looking to replace Mailis Reps. "I heard of the party leader's (PM Jüri Ratas - ed.) decision at the last moment," Aab said.
Show host Mirko Ojakivi asked Aab who the other candidates were. The freshly appointed education minister confirmed speculations surrounding Yana Toom, Mihhail Kõlvart and Katri Raik.
"And Mihhail Kõlvart etc. /.../ I know they were spoken to, yes. I do not how specific these discussions were. The prime minister justified his selection and he also had a request that I would take the challenge," Aab responded.
"It is very important in this crisis situation that we have been in cabinet for six months now and ministers are aware of the subject. We make these decisions and know how it is supposed to go, we definitely needed the experience. And at the same time, I am a teacher by education," he explained why the prime minister might have chosen him.
Aab will take exemptions to government Tuesday
The education minister said he will likely take certain exemptions regarding distance learning for high schools to government on Tuesday.
He noted that exemptions are available already, as individual consultations are allowed for high schoolers who wish to take foreign language exams. In addition, special needs students can go to school individually or by groups.
"And there are other exemptions on the table. But I do not believe, looking at the numbers - which have grown again over the week - that we could take the regulation off," Aab said.
"We should think forward. This will last until January 10 with a school break during the period. If restrictions are effective, we could be looking at the same situation as it was in fall, that contact and distance learning could alternate, we could try by classes, but these scenarios must be played to establish a future," he added.
The education minister said: "What might happen is this regulation remains, complete remote learning until the break and then until January 10, but there could be some exemptions made during that time. But I do not believe we can play it 50-50 (distance learning vs. contact classes - ed.). The numbers just do not allow us to."
Aab acknowledged that if infection rates continue to increase, restrictions could also reach general schools and grades 5-9. He added that while closing primary schools cannot be ruled out, the experiences collected from other countries and experts show that classes 1-4 should be the last ones sent to remote learning.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste