Social minister on schools closure: Students need to be treated equally

Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik (Center).
Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik (Center). Source: ERR

Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik said on Wednesday that the government decided to close schools everywhere in Estonia in order to ensure equal treatment of students and avoid confusion by having different criteria.

You said on "Aktuaalne kaamera" on Tuesday: "If we order an end to study, children will have to spend their time somewhere. Looking back at the fall and also the spring break for that matter, school holidays were when several outbreaks began." And now, just 24 hours later, such an about-turn by the government. It is incomprehensible.

I'm sure everyone still remembers that lesson, hopefully including parents, kids, young people who will be going on Christmas break anyway. The government has indeed decided to put an end to contact study sooner, while Christmas break will still begin on schedule. Opportunities to organize events and get together will be found either way. However, it is sensible to avoid them today and concentrate instead on spending time with one's immediate family, getting outdoor exercise and avoiding crowded places and events, no matter the person's age.

You do realize that parents cannot stay on top of their teenage children 24/7 by following them around and seeing who they meet and in groups of how many?

High schools can switch to remote learning as many have. However, as I said, Christmas break is around the corner anyway and will not be canceled in fear of the coronavirus. The decision today makes it possible to cancel trips, public transport contacts; limit all manner of hobby and educational activities to hopefully contain the spread of the virus. How people will be spending their time largely depends on their own choices but also how well their parents can explain the situation and sensible steps one can take to protect oneself and others.

Let us talk about the government's message that has been interpreted in very different ways just today. Why couldn't it be clear and unequivocal? Which school levels, which holidays and who are on break? Could remote learning continue in Tallinn, even though the mayor says one thing, the education minister another and you something yet other?

The official break times have not changed.

They are still from Christmas to January 10?

Precisely. What has changed is that contact study will not be taking place from December 14. An exception will be made for children with special needs, as well as for consultations, examinations and other such activities where contact study is absolutely necessary. Schools can also continue remote learning, which is sensible in the case of high schools and is being done by universities.

However, talking about basic schools, we have clear guidelines for elementary and basic school classes to cease study and hobby activities to reduce contacts between children and teachers, as well as use of public transport etc.

Is it up to schools to decide how to proceed?

The decisions are up to school managers. Tallinn has said its schools will end contact study on December 14. It is the most sensible course of action, especially in areas where COVID-19 infection rates are considerable. But various decisions will be made in other places.

The ban is nationwide, including counties that have very few outbreaks. Why subject everyone to the same restrictions?

We discussed it with members of the scientific council, education and healthcare experts. The logic is to treat students equally and refrain from creating exceptions and potentially even more confusion by having different criteria, categories. That teachers and heads of schools would be on the same page.

There will be very tough measures for Ida-Viru County, with practically everything shut down, except churches. What is so important or special about churches that people can still be allowed to gather there?

On the one hand, it's Christmas time, while on the other, talking about churches, we do not know of major outbreaks having started there. People can keep their distance as these are usually large and spacious premises in terms of air circulation. Of course, measures will need to be taken, such as social distancing, obligation to wear a mask and avoid rituals where the risk of infection might be created. The aim is to allow people who regularly attend church to continue doing that. Estonia has freedom of religion and people need to have that chance. But this also needs to happen safely.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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