Ukrainian children to be taught in Estonian in rural schools

Schoolchildren. Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

In some rural Estonian schools, Ukrainian students are set to begin the new school year studying in the same classes as Estonian children. While more classes will be taught using Estonian as the language of instruction than during the spring semester, schools will employ individualized teaching approaches to help Ukrainian pupils complete the curriculum.

Half the Ukrainian pupils in Estonia will study in Tallinn and Tartu during the upcoming school year. However, while separate classes, where lessons will be taught in Ukrainian, are being set up in some larger urban schools, for Ukrainian students in rural areas, the language of instruction will mostly be Estonian.

At Kanepi High School in Põlva County, five Ukrainian children are expected to attend classes starting this fall. According to headteacher Diana Leenurm, the Ukrainian students will be studying in classes with local children of the same age group.

"If there is a lesson that is more communicative and (the Ukrainian students) don't know how to participate, they will have an Estonian (language)  class at that time instead," said Leenurm.

Haanja School in Võru County, which has a total of just 60 students, is expecting to enroll seven Ukrainian pupils this semester. "We have them on the list at the moment, but we don't really know how many of them will come to the school. Some of them may have even  left Estonia already," said headteacher Saskia Sadrak-Tammes.

The arrival of Ukrainian students, the timing of which can sometimes be unpredictable, requires a degree of additional flexibility from schools. "If a child turns up in a particular week, we have to provide them with the opportunity to study as they are able. That's where a very individual approach comes in. These changes can happen at any time," said Sadrak-Tammes.

In the spring semester, most Ukrainian children were able to continue studying their normal curriculum online via their home school in Ukraine, while also studying Estonian language here in Estonia at the same time. "In the spring there was no pressure to complete the curriculum. We just tried to start developing them  linguistically. Of course, now we have to start following the curriculum," explained Sadrak-Tammes. "It creates pressure and a lot of stress for teachers. We have more questions than answers at the moment, unfortunately. However, fortunately, we can do the same for the Ukrainian children as we do with our own (Estonian) children, by starting (to work with them) on an individual basis. We are such a small school, so we can do that," Sadrak Tammes.

During the new school year, the emphasis will be on integrating Ukrainian students into the Estonian school system. Schools will also take into account the interests of Ukrainian parents when planning and organizing educational activities during the semester. "At the moment, families have also indicated to the school that they will stay in Estonia for a longer period of time. Therefore, the best option for children is to continue studying in Estonian schools and in Estonian (language)," said Leenurm.

The language of communication in school depends on the teacher. "We have taken the position of 'one teacher, one language,'" explained Leenurm. "I  only speak to the students in Estonian. The Russian teacher speaks to them in Russian during class, and the English teacher in English, so they also do the same outside of class."


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Editor: Michael Cole

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