Minister: Number of children with learning disabilities has doubled

Minister of Education and Research Liina Kersna (Reform).
Minister of Education and Research Liina Kersna (Reform). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Minister of Education and Research Liina Kersna (Reform) would not rush to send schools off to distance learning again, because while it would decrease infection rates, it would bring along side effects, such as the sudden increase in learning difficulties.

Liina Kersna notes that the epidemiological situation is serious, but she is not in a hurry to close down schools just yet. Studies show that the issue is more in peoples' behavior and a drop in the sense of danger.

"40 percent of close contacts do not change anything in their life after finding out they should stay isolated as a close contact. These are very worrying trends, they need to be dealt with. The danger keeps getting bigger, largely because we are irresponsible. For example, we see less and less people in masks in malls, people with symptoms of the coronavirus still come to enjoy culture in cinemas and theaters," Kersna told Vikerraadio's news show "Uudis+" on Monday.

The education minister is aware that there are different positions present in the government's scientific council about how to deal with education going forward as daily new case numbers have trended upwards recently. Yet, it has been confirmed internationally that students have fallen behind by up to three thirds of the full year as a result of distance learning, a measure implemented to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The respective indicator for Estonia is better as infrastructure here is better equipped for the occasion.

"The virus will not disappear even if we send schools to distance learning for two weeks. We can get the infection rate down for a moment, but as soon as we open schools up again, it will go up. We must learn to live with the virus: wear a mask, keep distance," Kersna said.

She says it would send a bad signal to society if schools were the first establishments to close. "It seems strange to me if we were to tell students that they cannot go to school, but can go everywhere else - to the cinema or theater. There must be a balance. A school break is coming soon, I call on everyone to think through what our necessary contacts are and what could be avoided," Kersna said.

"We knew much less about the virus in spring than we do today. Countries are not closed down as they were then. There needs to be a balance so that we could live with this virus as sustainably as possible," the minister added.

She hopes to see a great effect from vaccinating teachers, which needs to be conducted as fast as possible, in order to keep schools open.

"Distance learning has its drawbacks, these decisions must not be made without substantive arguments. We must consider children with learning disabilities, whose numbers have doubled during the period of distance learning. We must see to it that we do not leave our children in trouble, so that the holes in knowledge would not get too deep as a result of distance learning," Kersna noted.

She added that the number of hospitalized patients in Estonia is also worrying, but the number of patients on ventilators has remained low. The minister added that if there were to be a decision to send schools to distance learning, contact classes must be provided for primary and graduating classes.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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