Russian-language kindergartens too short on teachers to switch to Estonian

Toys in a kindergarten courtyard.
Toys in a kindergarten courtyard. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

By fall 2024, Russian-language kindergartens should be transitioning to Estonian-language instruction. Kindergartens are worried, however, as they're neither prepared nor do they have enough qualified personnel to meet requirements.

Within two years, the Estonian state wants to switch all kindergartens in the country to Estonian-language instruction. According to Ministry of Education and Research figures, there are currently 1,050 kindergarten teachers with inadequate proficiency in the Estonian language.

Ingar Dubolazov, head of language policy in general education and vocational education and training (VET) at the Ministry of Education, said that the ministry is working on obtaining a clear overview of language proficiency.

"We're also planning on going, with the support of experts, to observe instruction at schools as well," Dubolazov said. "I'd like to believe that, going forward, we'll have a very clear and realistic overview of which teachers actually speak the language and which don't, due to which they don't use it as the language of instruction."

According to ERR's Russian-language news portal, kindergarten teachers working in Russian-language kindergartens will be required to be proficient enough to communicate with children exclusively in Estonian, and switch to interacting with children in their care exclusively in the national language, within two years.

Teachers will be required to pass an Estonian language proficiency exam at the C1 or advanced level.

Tallinn Deputy Mayor Vladimir Belobrovtsev (Center), however, says it's unrealistic to expect all Russian-language kindergarten teachers to be capable of teaching in Estonian in two years' time.

"The fact is, we're short on teachers," Belobrovtsev said. "We don't have any more, if we're talking about the fact that by 2024, all kindergarten teachers currently working at Russian-language kindergarteners have to be proficient enough in Estonian to be able to teach the kids in Estonian."

At 14 groups, Tallinn's Mustakivi Kindergarten is the largest in the city. 27 teachers currently work there, only four of whom meet the new Estonian-language proficiency qualification standard. According to kindergarten director Svetlana Hruštšova, they are actively seeking new staff, but there are very few candidates.

"Of course every kindergarten prefers Estonian speakers specifically, but there are very few of them," Hruštšova said. "We have candidates who speak Estonian, but they don't have a degree, for example, or they have a degree but lack early childhood education pedagogical knowledge."

The key issue over the next two years, Dubalov noted, will be wage growth among all teachers, as well as whether universities will be capable of offering more spots in relevant degree programs, especially as interest in the kindergarten teacher major has grown.


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Editor: Kristina Kersa, Aili Vahtla

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