Estonia needs a competence-center, whose aim would be education which is integrated into Ukraine's system but which fits in with Estonian law, Isamaa MP Priit Sibul writes.
This competence center should be Ukrainian-speaking, but Estonian-minded, he adds, in an opinion piece first published in Estonian, which follows.
As a result of the war which Russia has started in Ukraine, tens of thousands of refugees have reached Estonia. Thousands of children who have arrived here must be able to continue their education, but, just as we take into account the specific needs of Estonian children, we must also do this for those living here on a temporary basis.
Due to the war initiated by Russia in Ukraine, tens of thousands of war refugees have arrived in Estonia. Thousands of children who have come and will be able to continue their education, but just as we take into account the special educational needs of Estonian children, we must also try to take this into account for those who live here temporarily.
While on the one hand it is certainly the case that the first preference of choice would be for children to go to Estonian-minded and Estonian-speaking schools, we do not know how long the conflict in Ukraine will last, and we cannot forecast the duration of this temporary situation.
On the one hand, it is certainly true that the first preference for a child's choice of school would be to be Estonian-speaking and Estonian-speaking. However, as we do not know how long the war in Ukraine will last, we cannot predict the duration of the temporary situation.
We know from our own history that a "temporary situation" unfortunately lasted for about 50 years.
The most important thing here is not to lose your language and culture, along with retaining the belief that [the current situation] is temporary.
It is vital to avoid a situation where Ukrainians arriving here "wind up" inside the Russian-speaking environment, in so doing reproducing linguistic segregation, which will paralyze the country in the long-run.
We can see that integration efforts so far have not yielded the awaited results in Estonia, and the Russian-speaking community here has, by-and-large, not integrated into our society.
However, the current system has favored the interaction of the Russian-speaking population, regardless of their national background.
When speaking about war refugees, it is important to take into account that a lack of language skills is a special educational need, and plunging into a new language environment overnight can make it difficult for Ukrainian children to get an education.
At the same time, we must bear in mind that the war in Ukraine is still abating and that the refugees still have a homeland to return to.
It is understandable that those who still have homes would like to be back there [in Ukraine], to start rebuilding their lives and their country.
This makes it necessary to create a competence center-school in Estonia which is Ukrainian-speaking and Estonian-minded.
The aim would be to provide children with an education that is integrated into the Ukrainian education system but also fits into our legal system.
At the same time, the mother tongue learning and cultural environment for children would be preserved, as well as attaining a good level of Estonian language learning for further coping here, which will enable them to partake in our cultural environment.
Estonia has the capacity to initially establish one such school competence center, in Tallinn. The main task of this first-established center would be to organize and to advise other Ukrainian children who are studying in local government-run municipal schools.
A multi-front approach in helping Ukrainian war refugees who have arrived here is needed. Societies suffer during war-time but the irreparable tragedy is the suffering of children. We must provide all children with an education that is the highest quality possible, one which would take into account children and their origins specifically.
We know from our own history that our refugees set up Estonian schools when in exile after World War Two, out of which Estonian communities grew. This served a far broader purpose than simply education acquisition on the part of specific pupils – in particular in terms of preserving the culture.
Editor: Andrew Whyte