Isamaa leader: Estonian-language education viable by 2027

Isamaa leader Helir-Valdor Seeder.
Isamaa leader Helir-Valdor Seeder. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

In the course of the ongoing coalition talks, Isamaa chair Helir-Valdor Seeder proposed that the transition to Estonian-language education could begin in 2024, and be completed by 2027, in an interview with ERR which follows.

The Social Democratic Party (SDE) reintroduced its earlier proposal, which is now their bargaining position, to create a unified Estonian school, which would require both Estonian and Russian students to attend the same school.

As part of the transition to Estonian-language instruction, could Isamaa endorse this proposal?

I did not understand from today's negotiations that SDE would have such a demand, but they did emphasize the need for a unified Estonian school where young pupils would study in both Russian and Estonian.

This plan has never received Isamaa's support. Our position is that it is important to take a clear political stance on a unified all Estonian-language education system as quick as possible; we want to focus all of our thoughts and activities to achieving that result. Isamaa cannot embrace the Social Democrats' proposals since the anticipated outcomes are too far away.

This is not a fair pace for the transition to all Estonian education. Given that we have already spent 30 years preparing in the way SDE suggests: Working out methodologies and language immersion, educating the teachers and encouraging them to join the schools, etc., it is evident by now that this approach is unrealistic. All of the above has been done to some degree during the past three decades without much success.

What time-frame does SDE propose?

They propose that schools begin changing to all Estonian teaching in 2026, four years from now. This is a far too long wait in the current situation.

The minister of education, Liina Kersna (Reform), said that this change could be accomplished by 2030. I do not know if this is also the Reform Party's official position. Would that be acceptable to Isamaa?

Our vision is absolutely clear. The numerous dates that the Ministry of Education signals cannot be taken too seriously. During the previous governing coalition, Liina Kersna recommended 2035, but it turned out that this was neither the Reform Party's official position, nor the government's position, nor it was a considered position at all.

Now that 2030 is proposed, it is still not clear to us what this supposed to mean. If this is the anticipated end date, then when will the actual transition begin? How will it commence? Will it begin with preschool transition only? Or will it begin with basic education?

Our plan is unambiguous: Beginning the transition to Estonian-language education in kindergartens, preschools, and elementary schools in 2024. In the latter, instruction in Estonian will begin in grades one, four, and seven. This will allow the transition to be accomplished within three years. In other words, the transition to an entirely Estonian school system would be complete by 2027.

And we believe that having such a clearly defined transition phase with a beginning and an end date will motivate agencies to address staffing requirements, the development of methodology, and other organizational issues when writing out budgets. All children, parents, and households will have two additional years to prepare. Two years is ample time for a pupils to mentally prepare and seek additional training whenever necessary. We believe that this is completely possible with a clear and robust national policy. And this is Isamaa's objective.

Why does Isamaa dislike the idea of a unified Estonian school?

This would largely mean the end of Estonian-language schooling in Ida-Viru County. This would be the actual outcome. There, it cannot be implemented.

And there is no need to enforce this type of school in Tallinn. Russian parents are already able to enroll their children in Estonian schools in Tallinn; so this possibility exists and is being used. And we see no justification for the state to purposefully establish such schools and then arbitrarily categorize students in order to determine who should attend which school, and how Russian and Estonian children should be counted in order to maintain the legally required ratio.

That would be highly artificial, generate a great deal of tension, bureaucracy, and conflict, and we would not achieve a better result. It is much better to give a very clear signal that at some point the education system in Estonia will be entirely Estonian. I believe that giving Russian families two years to adjust to this idea is a reasonable time.

What about teacher training? Will you find enough teachers by then?

Don't worry about teachers' education; the caravan will be on the move. If there is a legal requirement, then teachers will be sought, found, retrained, and supplied with training. If the law specifies a deadline and a requirement, this will be carried out. Nothing happens if the law does not enforce it. First and foremost, there must always be a purpose, and then it will be possible to invest financial resources in it, which the Estonian state will undoubtedly find.

Reform of the electricity market is an another major concern. Has there been a breakthrough?

We don't know yet. During today's negotiations, there was an agreement that reform of the electricity market is necessary, but no concrete proposals were made. We have a small working group for this, but we have not yet received feedback from them regarding whether or not a consensus has been achieved between the three parties. In all likelihood, we will have a better understanding of this by the evening.

What is the status of the family allowances negotiations?

We are still searching for common ground; we do not have it yet. There is greater disagreement on this point. It is primarily about the specifics of family allowances: the amount of family allowances, as well as whether or not indexation should be applied. Many concerns have been raised with the bill. In this situation, however, the social democrats have demonstrated flexibility.

They were, after all, one of the draft's original creators--they have already agreed with the initial version, and I believe they are ready to go along with it in principle and are also ready to compromise when necessary. The main disagreement here is really between the Reform Party and Isamaa.


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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