The Estonian government is not planning to close Russian-language schools, Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab (Center) said on Thursday.
Noting that there has been much talk in the media in recent days about Estonian- and Russian-language learning at educational institutions in terms of what is written in the coalition agreement, Aab said that rhetoric is spoken by politicians who did not take part in the coalition negotiations.
"Since interpretations differ, I consider it necessary to explain the situation," said Aab, who served as minister of education and research in the previous government and took part in the coalition talks.
"The coalition agreement contains the following information about this: 'We will launch an action plan on Estonian-language education to provide equal opportunities for everyone to participate in societal and professional life and continue their studies at the next level of education. We will allocate necessary funding for kindergartens and schools which enables to conduct the process of learning in the Estonian language, ensuring quality education. We will bring additional teachers with necessary qualifications to educational institutions'," Aab said.
The minister noted that the text contains not a single word about the closure of schools, amending of laws or a transition.
"This means the present government is not planning to change the legislation pertaining to said field or close Russian-language schools," Aab said. "We support the present system and will increase the volume of teaching of Estonian, placing the primary focus on kindergartens. We will work towards us to be genuinely able to offer good and quality education to all children. Already now, so many children and parents wish to learn Estonian and for learning to take place in Estonian that we are unable to ensure a sufficient number of teachers for this. Forced transition and the setting of deadlines do not give the desired result. Thereby we might just destroy the current overall atmosphere and motivation."
Aab said half of the children in Estonia whose first language is Russian already now attend Estonian-medium schools and in many Russian basic schools 40 percent of subjects are taught in Estonian.
During the past two years, over 100 teachers whose first language is Estonian have been introduced as teachers in Russian-language kindergartens, with 50 more such teachers to be introduced this year.
"Feedback received shows that children from families where a language other than Estonian is spoken are motivated to learn the Estonian language and in the Estonian language," Aab added.
The Center Party traditionally has a large Russian-Estonian voter base, while the Reform Party is pushing for a unified Estonian language education system.
Editor: Helen Wright