Ahead of September, Estonian schools still short around 1,000 teachers

Empty classroom.
Empty classroom. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

As the start of the new school year approaches, dozens of schools across Estonia are still looking for more teachers. The Estonian Educational Personnel Union (EHL) estimates that the country's school system is currently short some 1,000 properly qualified teachers, and the shortage is worsening by the year.

While school courtyards are currently still quiet, in just a couple of weeks they'll be filled with schoolchildren back from summer break again. Unfortunately, schools in Estonia are still facing a shortage of teachers.

Luule Niinesalu, principal of Peetri Basic School, said that their school is currently short five teachers, and that the situation is very serious. For example, no one has applied for the position of Estonian language and literature teacher thus far.

"We have a chemistry teacher, but their health has deteriorated to the point that they've been on sick leave for an extended period of time, so we have to look [for a new one]," Niinesalu said. "And we had one candidate for geography teacher, but they're still in school and they didn't want a full-time position. We've never been in such a dire situation before."

Jüri High School, meanwhile, is currently short two teachers, but according to principal Liina Altroff, Rae Municipality is facing a broader challenge.

"Rae Municipality is growing rapidly, and the population here is very young," Altroff said. "More and more people keep [moving here], and we have a lot of big schools in the municipality, so the need for teachers continues to increase each year."

EHL chair Reemo Voltri said that the overall shortage of qualified teachers totals around 1,000, but that figure is increasing by the year.

"Considering that in Estonia, a teacher is a specialist with a master's degree, but teachers' wages are significantly lower than those of other employees with higher education, this remains a growing trend," Voltri acknowledged.

At Peetri Basic School, lessons are being divided up among existing teachers, which means that teachers are having to bear heavy workloads. According to Niinesalu, there's no easy solution here.

"I believe that the primary concern here is that people aren't studying to become teachers," she said. "And when people do go to school to become teachers, they're in school for five years. There is no quick solution, but I believe that somewhere exists the reason why young people aren't studying [to become teachers]."

Altroff said that no one school should have to tackle this issue alone.

"Maybe it would be good if principals, local governments, the state level, universities were to convene more consciously somehow," she offered. "Then we'd likely get some sort of solution: what that solution is, what we want, and what each of us could do."

Voltri noted that in order to get new teachers, young people need to be given a strong signal that teachers' work is valued and that they will be guaranteed competitive wages in the long term.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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