Education minister: Most schools will teach only in Estonian next year

September 1st marks the traditional first day of school for children entering into the first grade across Estonia.
September 1st marks the traditional first day of school for children entering into the first grade across Estonia.

As the state lacks the resources to develop a bilingual school system, the transition to all Estonian-language teaching will take place in the majority of educational institutions already during the new school year, Minister of Education Tõnis Lukas said at a press conference dedicated to the start of the school year.

"The transition to Estonian as the sole language of instruction begins in kindergartens, basic and secondary education and vocational schools," Lukas said.

In order to achieve this goal, the government is currently establishing a legislative framework that takes into account regional differences and school structures in order to apply different approaches when necessary, the minister said.

Lukas said, one of the goals for the 2023 school year is to make Estonian the language used during lessons in Ida-Viru County.

"In fact, this transition could happen even sooner also there; for example, in Tartu, two schools and three kindergartens have already switched from Russian to Estonian," he said.

The Ministry of Education's curriculum plan calls for an increase in the number of Estonian language classes in be-lingual Russian-language schools.

"Estonian lessons are held four times a week until the third grade. In grades four through seven, the number of weekly lessons increases to five," Lukas added.

This includes plans to modify the level of final examinations for various levels of education. "In basic school, the language proficiency level is B2 rather than B1 and C1 in upper secondary school," said the minister.

In addition to language proficiency requirements for students, the state also seeks to regulate the language skills of teachers. "To that end, we are requesting an amendment to the Language Act that would allow the Language Board (Keeleamet) to conduct monitoring in schools even during lessons," Lukas said.

Teachers whose language proficiency does not meet the requirements will no longer be eligible to teach beginning with the 2023/2024 school year. "We anticipate that all school leaders will sign on to the targets and adhere to the language level requirements," Lukas continued.

Additionally, the selection of B foreign languages will become more diverse, and schools will be required to provide students a range of options. Currently, such a requirement does not exist, Lukas said.

"The B foreign language is predominantly Russian; we hope that schools will take this seriously and provide an alternative B foreign language beginning in this fall," he added.

As we do not have the resources to build a bilingual educational system, the minister of education emphasized that the state must promote the exclusive use of Estonian language.

"When it becomes clear that Estonian is essential, a serious approach toward the language will follow," Lukas said.

The minister also emphasized the importance of teacher compensation. Currently, the Ministry of Education and Research recommends that teachers with a master's degree are paid 120 percent of the Estonian average wage.

No further development of distance learning

Kristi Vinter-Nemvalts, secretary general of the ministry, said that the goal is to keep educational institutions open despite the pandemic and that the ministry advises against distant learning.

"The decision regarding distant learning will be made regionally and on a case-by-case basis, as opposed to being implemented nationally. Distance learning should be avoided, especially with younger students and those in need of assistance," Vinter-Nemvalt said.

The secretary general recommended everyone to stay at home in the event of any disease symptoms and to take a rapid test when possible. If the test is positive, the person should isolate for five days.

"The immunization recommendation applies to everyone, especially to prevent hospital admissions and the progression of the condition," the secretary added.

Rapid tests will also continue to be administered in schools, with the government advising students to take the tests home, especially if they suspect illness.

"The state will provide the tests, which should arrive in schools next week," the secretary said.

This year, 14,000 students will begin their first year in basic school and 158,000 will enroll in general education in total.

On September 1, 1,597 kindergartens, 517 general education institutions and 18 institutions of higher education will open in Estonia.


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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