Incoming minister: We should start offering teachers year off

Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa).
Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

In an appearance on "Vikerhommik" on Monday morning, incoming education minister Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa) said that teachers should be offered a year or semester off to help prevent burnout and promote personal development. He also believes that more motivation should be offered to attract new teachers.

Lukas acknowledged that constantly overburdened teachers need a break as well as additional motivation.

"And they'd like to see that their profession is valued," he said on Vikerraadio's morning program. "In the future, we could consider a year or semester off, like at universities, within a certain amount of time, during which people can commit themselves to self-improvement and don't have to work under a heavy burden like a hamster in a wheel. So those measures exist with which teachers' burdens can be reduced."

In universities and some other institutions, this practice, which traditionally involves a year off every seven years, is called sabbatical leave.

Lukas also said that he is glad that the government is now approaching the systemic nationwide transition to Estonian-language education.

"In Tartu, I've proposed a system of concentrates, in which various school levels have switched over to Estonian-language education at the same time, and the city government implemented precisely that," said the former mayor of Estonia's second city. "It's possible to transition a nine-year basic school in three years this way. That the first, second and third school levels begin transitioning and complete it at the same time."

According to the incoming minister, it was agreed upon at the national level to begin with a preparatory period, followed by a transition within three years at the first two school levels, and that the third doesn't need to be completed at the same time.

Regarding the increasing shortage of teachers Estonia is facing, Lukas said that teachers need to be sufficiently motivated. A greater number of teachers will be needed by 2024, when the transition to Estonian-language education is slated to begin at the elementary school level — at grades one through four.

"We don't need the full extent of basic school yet in 2024," he explained. "We're talking about kindergarten too. It should be easier in the case of kindergartens, as quite a lot of young people are majoring in early childhood education and teaching. If we motivate them enough, we'll find these people. We'll have to help people into certain areas with additional pay and additional social guarantees. But that is why the coalition has drawn up an agreement — to take these necessary steps."

Estonia has to find these teachers, Lukas continued. "The Estonian people ultimately have faith in education, and we've always found teachers," he said.

On the subject of education during the COVID-19 pandemic, the incoming education minister praised his predecessor, Reform minister Liina Kersna, adding that work should continue in the same vein.

"Liina Kersna did well in actually keeping schools open, with limited exceptions," Lukas said. "It's very important that children be able to attend school and be in direct contact with pedagogues. We'll try to continue in the same vein, but I suppose corresponding measures will be adopted once we're aware of the conditions."

"Vikerhommik" host Taavi Libe asked Lukas whether he thinks it's right that someone with zero prior political experience be named minister, referring to his own party's picks for minister of justice and minister of entrepreneurship and IT — Lea Danilson-Järg and Kristjan Järvan, respectively.

"Both colleagues you're talking about have encountered both the painful issues and the politics of Estonian society," said Lukas, himself a three-time previous minister. "And I'm sure they'll mature quickly. They won't be given any time, and both are capable people, able to learn lessons and make important decisions already at the same time. I hope they will adapt and get involved a few hours from now already."

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) and the ministers of her second government will be sworn in in the Riigikogu on Monday.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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