Plans to better organize the teaching of Estonian as a foreign language will be sped up due to the arrival of thousands of Ukrainian refugees. It is expected to cost €10 million.
Data from an integration study carried out in 2020 shows 35 percent of non-Estonian residents are not satisfied with the availability of Estonian language teaching.
The Ministry of Education and Research and the Unemployment Insurance Fund agreed there is less availability in smaller regions and free classes in cities fill up very quickly.
Andero Adamson, head of the language policy department at the ministry, said the general trends show more places are needed. "The need for an immediate response has now come from the war in Ukraine, but it has been on the table for a long time," he told ETV's current affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" on Monday.
Head of the Tartu County Unemployment Insurance Fund Jane Väli said: "This morning, a Ukrainian lady came to us, who started by saying "hello" in beautiful clear Estonian and she had been in Estonia for about two days, it can be assumed that interest [in learning] is growing."
A new target group will be made for people already living in Estonia and who are interested in learning the language.
Adamson said the state is currently able to offer 15,000 free Estonian language lessons and there are plans to add 10,000 more. Additionally, 100 more teachers will be trained. This is the ministry's limit.
Deputy Head of Cultural Diversity at the Ministry of Culture Eda Silberg said: "It is not realistic for everyone who has arrived to receive language training today, tomorrow or in three months, but our goal is to be able to provide language training during the year. I dare say the bottleneck will be a shortage of teachers and tutors rather than lack of resources."
Silberg said the state will start offering classes to the new target groups in June as long as the government allocates additional funding.
"We have taken into account that if we want to offer basic education in Estonian to 10,000 people, it is A1 level and A2 level, then this additional resource is somewhere around €9.5 million euros," Silberg said.
So far, more than 15,000 refugees have arrived in Estonia with at least a third being children.
Free language courses are provided by the government and it is well known that they fill up quickly, usually, all places are gone within an hour after online registration opens.
Editor: Helen Wright