Coalition talks: Reform wants more funding for Estonian in kindergartens

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Coalition negotiations between Reform and Center continued on Monday, January 18. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

More funding for the implementation of Estonian-language kindergarten education is needed, Reform Party leader Kaja Kallas said Monday evening, following that day's coalition talks with the Center Party, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported. This will require compromise with Center, whose policy is not to see an end to Russian-language education.

Reform leader and prime-minister-in-waiting Kaja Kallas told AK that: "The topic of education was what took our attention the most."

"It is important for us to value the teaching profession, there is a growing need for teachers," Kallas went on.

Reform and Center finished day four of coalition talks which would see the two parties, the largest at the Riigikogu, with 59 seats combined, focus on education and initiate plans to draw up an action plan for education in Estonian.

Estonian language from kindergarten level key Reform policy, Center approach differs

A key Reform policy is making Estonian accessible to all, starting from Kindergarten level – a question which it has differed with Center on in the past.

Mailis Reps (Center), a former long-serving education minister and heading up her party's delegation at the talks, said that the provision of extra funds for study in Estonian does not mean an end to Russian-language schools.

Reps told AK that: "Following today's agreement, we will create additional opportunities, and strengthen opportunities in pre-primary education. As of today, no mass closure of any school is planned or on the table."

Estonian is the state language and the mother tongue of the majority of the population, but schools in Russian-speaking areas, primarily in Tallinn and Ida-Viru County and a traditional heartland of Center Party support, continue at least some of their instruction in that language. This means a compromise is needed between the two parties.

Kallas: More teachers, materials needed

Kaja Kallas said the move to boosting Estonian from kindergarten level would reflect a growing number of parents who want the option of sending their offspring to Estonian-language schools.

"If all kindergarteners study in Estonian, meaning they will not have a problem [with the language], there will be no problem in choosing an Estonian-language school from that point," Kallas added.

Additional teachers and teaching materials are needed, which requires funding, Kallas added, with kindergartens the base level for the policy.

Kallas said: "We agreed on an action plan for education in Estonian, which starts from pre-primary education and lasts until the end of upper secondary school."

Reform leader: This continues through to higher education

Estonian is a key language in science and technology, Kallas added.

Iin higher education, Kaja Kallas said that private finance would be used more heavily where possible.

Kallas said: "We discussed how to bring young researchers to Estonian science and how to support doctoral studies more so that young researchers would choose this career more."

A Reform-Center action plan would need to be crystallized in time for state budget strategy discussions (from around September – ed.), Kallas added.

The two parties and their leaders also discussed making the famed Estonian e-State more personalized and easier for the public to use in communicating with the state, including better utilization of databases and making public services more available as mobile [phone] services.

Kallas: Digital and green revolutions need to continue

The digital revolution and green issues were also discussed in relation to the field of culture (which in Estonia includes sports, since that activity falls under the purview of the Ministry of Culture – ed.), which, Kallas said, may also lead to the creation of a "cultural accelerator".

The coalition talks, sparked by last week's resignation of Jüri Ratas as prime minister, are ongoing. When and what form the coalition agreement and ministerial line-up will be announced is not clear yet, but is likely to be this month, both in terms of following standard procedure (the two parties have 14 days to conclude their talks and are on day five from Tuesday) and a desire to get things squared away as soon as possible, due to considerations of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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