Tartu parents, schools concerned over switch to Estonian-language learning

An empty classroom.
An empty classroom. Source: Olev Kenk/ERR

Tartu's coalition has agreed that in four years, all education facilities within the city need to be transferred to studying in Estonian, according to the law it means that 60 percent of the learning process takes place in Estonian. Schools and parents see finding the required employees, along with learning difficulties, as being the main issues.

Russian-language study is available at two Tartu schools at present. While in some classes, the percentage of study in Estonian has risen to 75 percent, in several others, the figure is around 40-50 percent, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" reported Wednesday.

In four years, the volume of study in Estonian should increase to 60 percent for all children, except students with learning difficulties.

The balance of languages in precise terms needs to be discussed with the schools, candidate for council chair Tõnis Lukas (Ismaa) said. The aim is to solely offer language and cultural subjects in Russian.

"When to study Russian, literature and culture in depth, then the percentage of these subjects would be 25 and subjects in Estonian would be 75 - this is one option. According to the current law, when 60 percent of studying is in Estonian, it's considered the studying language, but I think for Tartu, this 60 percent would be too little ambitious," Lukas said.

"This means that the whole school is a language immersion school, students can't choose whether they study in a regular class or an immersion class. I think it's an issue when students don't have a choice, the autonomy is ruined," he said.

Despite the fact that parents have sent their children to immersion classes, the chairwoman of Tartu Aleksander Puškin School's board of trustees Irina Panova said that parents are concerned about Tartu's plan. They are worried about a decline in Russian language skills as well as the coping of children.

"Parents are against studying in Estonian and I'm sure about it. People are discussing the matter of Facebook and everybody is shocked. Changing the language only creates bigger problems, it doesn't motivate to study. I don't see a reason to hurry anywhere," Panova said.

The school leaders say that the share of the Estonian language will probably reach 60 percent in four years. Achieving a higher proportion could lead to staffing problems, however, they said.

"It takes a while for a teacher to grow into a teacher who knows exactly the needs of a second-language child. Today's competitions do not attract too many people. We have to be ready for psychological difficulties," the principal of Annelinn High School, Hiie Asser, said.

Lukas said that finding specialists in Tartu shouldn't be too difficult- How many more specialists are needed in Tartu will become clear when creating the action plan.

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Editor: Roberta Vaino

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