The government has neglected necessary preparations for teaching Estonian over decades and was looking to saddle local governments with the task in proposed amendments to the Preschool Education Act, Mayor of Tallinn Mihhail Kõlvart (Center) said on the "Otse uudistemajast" webcast on Wednesday.
"It is a great shame that only a single aspect of this debate has been highlighted. In truth, it would take ten minutes to merely list all the problems. That is not just my personal view but that of local governments in Estonia, a view they have communicated. Unfortunately, it has found little coverage," Kõlvart said.
"Let us imagine for a moment that, as the president of an athletics association, I invite heads of clubs for a meeting and tell them that their athletes need to participate in the Olympics. And not just participate but also win medals. Only to be asked by clubs, where are the necessary coaches, methodology, resources? And my reply would be – listen, if you don't support this initiative, you're all traitors! Because it would clash with the association's interests and core values!" Kõlvart said. "Systematically speaking, there is little separating sports and education," he added.
Kõlvart said that the aim of the Reform Party, with the Preschool Education Act bill that the Center Party helped reject in the Riigikogu, was to make local governments responsible for the switch to Estonian language education.
"We failed and have lost our nerve, and someone needs to be responsible! Let us write it up and find someone we can punish. Let the local governments take responsibility. Get it done!" the mayor said in terms of how he sees the government's thought process. "I'm sure that if we declare the switch now, everyone will soon forget about it. There will be no need to think of teachers, resources – a done deal and time to move on! No one is going to go and check what is actually happening in schools and kindergartens. There will be a political solution and no one will give a toss about the rest. As it is in Latvia!" he continued.
The Tallinn mayor said that all Russian-speaking people in Estonia, including in Narva and Sillamäe, understand that it is necessary to learn Estonian. "But it requires resources," he reiterated.
Kõlvart gave the example of Russian elementary schools currently offering two 45-minute Estonian lessons a week, or six per month.
He also said that Estonian teachers coming out of universities have been taught the old methodology, unlike English teachers. "Which language is the bigger priority then?" he asked.
"I want to ask when will Estonia have a special program for training Estonian teachers, who can teach in Estonian? When will we get started? When will we give Russian kindergartens the resources [they need]? The pilot project of Estonian-speaking teachers in Russian kindergarten classes has been launched, but when will we expand it to benefit every kindergarten? Let us do it!" Kõlvart said.
He added that most Russian-speaking people already choose Estonian schools for their kids and the only thing slowing down the process is schools' ability to admit everyone.
No preparedness for teaching Ukrainian children
Kõlvart said that the Education and Youth Board has ordered schools to admit as many Ukrainian students as makes up 7 percent of their student body. He added this quota should also be revised because schools' opportunities differ.
"The minister has ordered Ukrainian children to be sent only to Estonian schools. But principals have admitted they do not know how to cope. Another good example of something that's merely a slogan," Kõlvart said.
He went on to say that in a situation where both the city and state are opening new schools for Ukrainian children in Tallinn, Estonian teachers will once more be the main problem. "We cannot find enough for Ukrainian schools, just as we don't have enough for Russian schools," he said.
Kõlvart said that Ukrainian children who plan to live in Estonia should attend Estonian schools, even though the latter cannot even accommodate all the Russian kids who would like to attend.
Because schools cannot fit all Ukrainian children, they should study in the evening shift, while that would still not solve the shortage of teachers. The pressure on Estonian schools is doubled if Russian schools do not participate in teaching Ukrainian students, he suggested.
Editor: Marcus Turovski