Minister of Education and Research Liina Kersna (Reform) said on the "Vikerhommik" morning show that Estonia has received 7,094 Ukrainian children not all of whom will likely stay here. Around 20,000 refugees from Ukraine are estimated to have reached Estonia by Monday morning.
"We need to consider that the children who arrive in Estonia are coming from a war zone, have been fighting for their lives, been on a long and arduous journey before arriving safely in Estonia. Therefore, no one expects them to be able to sit down in a classroom and start learning in a foreign language. First, they need stability, peace and psychological support. Only then can they start to gradually adjust to our school system so we can offer them language training, hobby education, with some eventually prepared to join classes," Kersna said.
The minister said that the aim is to offer Ukrainian students support this spring and summer to prepare them for joining classes and keeping up with the curriculum as best they can come fall.
"Estonia is favorably positioned to do that. We already have over 5,000 children whose native tongue is not Estonian in our Estonian-language school system. Every year brings more kids from our own Russian families to Estonian schools, and we know many of them might not have a strong grasp on Estonian. We have various methods for integrating non-Estonian-speakers into the Estonian education system. But it is not widespread. It is likely that children who do not speak Estonian as their first language will also reach parts of Estonia that have not seen them before. Developing the skills and know-how of teachers is among our priorities," Kersna said.
Many children who have arrived in Estonia are preschool-age. The education minister said that they will have an easier time in terms of learning the language.
"The principle of the sooner the better always applies when it comes to language. We have over 3,000 vacancies in preschool education, over 10,500 in general education and around 2,000 on the high school level," Kersna said.
The education minister also said that to avoid conflicts in Russian schools, teachers need to explain the situation and emphasize that justifying [Russia's] aggression [in Ukraine] is not allowed.
"It is a major challenge for the education system, how to try and explain the conflict without adding fuel to the fire. School provides the opportunity and neutral ground to explain, for example, the difference between balanced news and propaganda," Kersna said.
Editor: Marcus Turovski