Minister: Tallinn remote learning ruling discriminates vaccinated students

Education minister Liina Kersna (Reform) on Wednesday's edition of AK.
Education minister Liina Kersna (Reform) on Wednesday's edition of AK. Source: ERR

Tallinn city government's decision to place grade 4-8 schoolchildren on distance learning next week is unfair to those students who are vaccinated, education minister Liina Kersna (Reform) told ETV news show 'Aktuaalne kaamera' (AK) in an interview Wednesday evening, which follows.

What is your comment on Tallinn's decision to keep schoolchildren at home?

I can understand and acknowledge the decision from the Tallinn City Government to reduce contacts. However, I think it is very unfair that this decision will also send those young people who have been vaccinated, to remote learning.

In Tallinn, for example, there are 21 schools where more than 60 percent of students have been vaccinated, plus 10 schools where the rate is over 70 percent. I think that this is unfair to these students.

Tallinn mayor Mikhail Kõlvart said that the decision was based on the desires of, or pressure from, school leaders

I also hope that in Tallinn, school leaders would have the right to organize a rotation in a way that, for example, in schools where 60 or 70 percent or more of the students have been vaccinated, the school leader can make their own decisions about who to send to distance learning.

The Health Board said over the weekend that the epidemiological situation is at the stage where schools should be sent for longer breaks, or on distance learning. You don't agree with that statement?

Several international organizations working in the field of education, including the OECD, the World Bank, UNICEF and UNESCO, have made three policy recommendations to governments. First, even in covid conditions, it is important to keep schools open. Second, we need to deal systematically ironing-out differences with pupils. And third, we need to support teachers in levelling the gaps with students education. In distance learning in particular, it is practically impossible to do this. This can only really be done with contact study.

In Tallinn, hobby education in areas under the city's remit is also moving as much as is possible to taking a break or towards home study. But private interest groups do not fall within the competence of the City fo Tallinn. Is the state asking these to stay open or shut up?

The state has made efforts to keep the education system open, with our new simplified quarantine measure, which is specifically for educational institutions where close contacts take a PCR test, and if that test returns negative, they can reenter the education system. This is intended for both general and hobby education. Our goal is to keep the education system open, as safely as possible.

One of your suggestions in recent days has been that all schoolchildren can get tested twice a week. Is this really viable, and is it the duty of the teacher, or the head of education, to be a medical professional?

Firstly, such re-testing in schools is carried out in a large number of European countries, to enable the schools to remain open. We got that overview in government on Tuesday. We are currently working very hard with colleagues at the Ministry of Education and Research, to ensure that tests are available in all schools from Monday. These are very easy tests, that all children can take, and just require adult guidance where necessary. But they are really very easy to use.

What will you do with those children whose parents do not permit then to get tested?

We have decided now that the education system must remain open, regardless of whether children have been vaccinated or not, and we also have this attitude to testing. It is our hope that all parents will allow their child to be tested. It does not hurt, but it does ensure the safety of schools, along with other measures such as wearing a mask.

And if a child is not allowed to test themselves, will they stay home?

They will definitely stay home if they are not allowed to be tested as a close contact. But when we test this screening, we won't leave them at home according to the current decisions. If the child is a close contact and the parent refuses to test, they must remain in solitary confinement for ten days.

Will these discussions be codified tomorrow into a government decision?

I hope so.

Liina Kersna was talking to Margus Saar on Wednesday's edition of AK.

Tallinn city government made its decision Tuesday to send students in grades 4-8 at its municipal schools to distance learning for one week from next Monday, after the current half-term week's break ends.

Elementary school classes (grades 1-3) and high school classes are to remain in classrooms, as will students with special educational needs.

Mayor Kõlvart said infections are currently highest in the 10-14 age group, hence focusing on grades 4-8.

The national government is to make its announcement on further possible restrictions, including those relating to schools, at its regular press conference Thursday lunchtime.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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