Graduating classes to go on distance learning for a week

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An empty classroom in Estonia (picture is illustrative). Source: Ministry of Education and Research

The government decided on Thursday that 9th and 12th grade students will go on distance learning for at least a week from Monday. Primary classes and students with special educational needs will have contact classes, however.

The government's decision will take general education schools, vocational schools and universities to distance learning until the end of March. Graduating classes - 9th and 12th grades - will also join them on distance learning for at least next week. Contact classes are only allowed for primary classes, meaning 1st to 4th grades, and for students with special educational needs.

Special educational services, consultations, practical learning, tests, exams and olympiads are allowed if students comply with safety requirements and go to school in small groups.

"How we will proceed, we will decide on Tuesday. I consider it important that graduating classes could be in contact classes at least partly," Minister of Education and Research Liina Kersna (Reform) commented on social media. "I understand it will be a difficult time."

She explained that the decision stems from recent daily coronavirus figures, which have exceeded 1,000. In addition, data shows that the virus is spreading fastest among the age group of 10-19 year-olds. "Educational establishment outbreaks keep growing over the last weeks, now 36 percent of all outbreaks are in educational establishments," Kersna wrote, adding that the government is trying to keep children from gathering in large groups.

Speaking on ETV's daily affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" on Thursday, Kersna said that 5,000 of the total 26,000 general education teachers have been vaccinated. "Teachers must be vaccinated by the time students return to school," the minister said.

Kersna added that Reform Party ministers in government agreed with ensuring graduating classes the ability of returning to contact classes, starting the week after next. Center ministers however proposed those classes also continue on distance learning.

"They are in the age group where infection rates are high, but they must go to school testing in March or the end of April or even their first exams. Our decisions affect the future of the youth," Kersna explained why she approves of having graduating classes in contact learning.

The education minister added that restrictions can only be eased once the infection rate multiplier - the R rate - drops to below one, meaning each infected person would infect less than another person on average. As of Friday morning, the R rate stands just below 1.2.

To help schools, a support phone number will be opened for teachers next week. The number 735 0750 will have specialists and education psychologists from Rajaleidja answering questions from pedagouges. The line is open from noon to 8 p.m. Since only a third of Estonian schools have a psychologist on staff, the line gives more teachers the option of communicating with one.

211 university students from Tartu and Tallinn universities have also offered themselves up as support for teachers. Some 80 schools have announced they would welcome the students' assistance. Schools will have the options of joining the support program going forward as well.

In addition, discussions are ongoing about opening a substitute teacher cooperation program. With help from the Estonian Union for Child Welfare, 1,230 computers will reach schools in March to help with distance learning. Demand is still much greater however.

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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