AK: Schools on distance-learning should be temporary measure, says minister

Education minister Liina Kersna.
Education minister Liina Kersna. Source: Ministry of Education and Research

Distance learning in schools has drawbacks which must be acknowledged, education minister Liina Kersna (Reform) says, adding that for this reason it should be seen as a temporary measure, while vaccinations are key to getting on top of the coronavirus situation in schools.

Speaking to ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) Monday evening, Kersna said that any further restrictions on the back of a government meeting scheduled for Tuesday cannot be predicted before they are known, but reiterated that distance learning in schools had been making its negative effects known.

The cabinet is meeting with its own coronavirus advisory council Tuesday, with the latter tipped to suggest further coronavirus restrictions.

Minister: As much as half or more of a year's study lost as a result of distance learning so far

Kersna, who became education minister with the change of government last month, pointed to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings, whose list Estonia currently tops from among European nations, as being jeopardized by continuing remote learning.

Kersna told AK that: "Kersna told AK that: "As a result of distance learning, our children have lost from half- to three-quarters of a year in studies. There are predictions that PISA tests are likely to drop by 16 points. Distance learning is a very fast means of suppressing infection levels, but the long-term effects are very complex."

Priority now should be the rapid vaccination of teachers, Kersna went on.

As reported by ERR News, inoculations of teachers and other educational personnel started Monday, though logistical boxes still need ticking in some cases, while the teaching body is not united in welcoming the vaccinations.

"Expectations were and are very high, since we have more than 15,000 educators who have already signed up to the vaccine, and that list is constantly being updated," Kersna added.

"Vaccination is definitely the most important thing. Even if we decide to put schools on distance learning again at some point, that would be a temporary measure. We know from experience and have seen this many times over the past year, that if the schools are open, the infection rate will go back up," Kersna continued, adding that there is a critical number of teacher vaccinations which, if met or exceeded, would see the situation in schools get better.

Outbreaks in schools relating to both students and teachers are still quite common, with recent cases in Pärnu County causing several schools tohttps://news.err.ee/1608078109/rising-covid-19-rates-force-several-parnu-county-schools-to-remote-learning.

More communication, not only from the government, but also from the healthcare sector, was also needed, Kersna said.

All schools went on general distance learning from the beginning of last year's emergency situation in mid-March, to the end of the last academic year. This academic year, distance learning has been imposed as noted above when schools report individual cases, as well as in the run-up to the Christmas break.

The government has announced that state exams will go ahead at the end of this academic year.

More communication, not only from the government, but also from the healthcare sector, was also needed, Kersna said.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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