Not enough school, kindergarten places for refugees in Otepää Municipality

Ukrainian refugees' registration center in Tallinn.
Ukrainian refugees' registration center in Tallinn. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The relative importance of refugees in population is among the highest in Otepää Municipality, with work, school and kindergarten places in short supply. The Ministry of Education and Research says that all underage refugees will need to be found a place at an educational institution by fall.

Ukraine war refugees make up 8 percent of the population in Otepää Municipality for one of the highest figures in Estonia. Even though some refugees are planning to find long-term lodging in a major city, others would like to stay in the region. But the local government does not have enough work or school places for everyone.

"I think no one takes their kid to school here because there are no places," refugee Natalka said.

"Otepää is offering temporary housing to 350 people 100 of whom are minors. Looking at the Otepää High School and kindergarten today, they have no vacancies. I cannot give any other example where so many children are not receiving the service," Liina Põld, deputy secretary general for the education ministry, said.

Education opportunities for refugees differ greatly in Estonia. While major cities can offer students assistance and support with remote learning, Ukrainians in state housing in Otepää are mostly teaching their children themselves. "Their education is online. They have exercise books and textbooks, and they're quietly studying with their mothers. Teachers send in information and websites with materials, and that is it," said Jelena.

Because parents have to stay with children during the day, refugees struggle to find work, which in turn makes it difficult to find a permanent place to live. But the latter serves as basis for a school place, the municipality mayor finds.

"People whose employer has given them a place to live or who have found one themselves and have registered as Otepää residents have been found school and kindergarten places. A hotel does not constitute permanent lodging. They do not have a permanent address in the municipality and no one is paying us for their education," Otepää Municipality Mayor Jaanus Barkala said.

"The local government is obligated to offer people school places in basic education. They must be able to attend school even if they are not registered residents. Kids living on board the [Tallink] ferry will be found school places by the city of Tallinn. The state will pay for school and kindergarten places. Parents cannot go to work if their children cannot attend kindergarten that creates a vicious circle," Liina Põld said.

The ministry undersecretary added that all refugees need to be found school places by fall at the latest. If refugees currently in Otepää wish to remain in the region, the municipality will have to create additional school and kindergarten places.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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