After the Ukrainian-only new Freedom School hit capacity, schools in Tallinn were initially concerned whether they could manage to squeeze all older school-aged Ukrainian children into other classrooms. Since then, however, all nearly 1,500 students to apply for school in the Estonian capital have since been enrolled.
Ukrainian children were distributed across schools in Tallinn based on the reported number of spots each school had available per class. Tallinn Education Department thereafter gathered up all the applications submitted by parents and matched applicants with schools.
"This process is still ongoing, although the initial deadlines were in August already," said Tallinn Education Department director Kaarel Rundu. "We initially told schools that the percentage of children from Ukraine would remain up to 7 percent of the total number of students at a school. Schools were then able to take account of where their classes were full and where there would be more room."
Also taken into consideration when assigning schools to children were whether the new student already had a sibling attending the same school as well as where in Tallinn they live.
Fitting students in upper grade levels into the capital's schools has been more difficult.
"At first, the initial agreement with the state was that the local government would take care of first through sixth grades, and the state promised to take care of grades 7-12," the department director said. "Then the state said that Freedom School is unfortunately full and they can't accept any more [students]. Thus we had to place seventh through ninth grade students in schools as well. It was more difficult with older ages, though, as schools had counted on first through seventh grade, but now everyone who had applied has been assigned a school as well."
Nonetheless, according to Rundu, all children who according to Tallinn Education Department data live in Tallinn have been enrolled in school by now.
"As we know, there are also families who are currently in Tallinn or elsewhere in Estonia and are planning on returning to Ukraine and haven't applied to enroll [their child] in school," he acknowledged. "But with every day we're seeing more people submitting new applications [to enroll their children in school]. I expect work will continue on this in the weeks to come."
Families from Ukraine were able to decide for themselves whether to place their children in Estonian- or Russian-language schools. The Tallinn official said that there were families that consciously chose to place their children in an Estonian-language school as well as those who consciously opted for Russian-language school.
"That was the family's decision," he confirmed. "Those who want to return to Ukraine as quickly as possible more often placed their child in a Russian-language school; they wanted their child to have an easier time in school. At the same time, there were Ukrainians who consciously wanted an Estonian-language school. Nonetheless, there were more of the former families."
Children at Estonian-language schools are studying in Estonian. "The main message to schools has been that Ukrainian children learn the Estonian language," Rundu said. "Ukrainian children are studying according to the Estonian curriculum, and when possible, they'll be offered extra Estonian language lessons. In some schools, young people from Ukraine are in language immersion classes as well."
Children's experiences varying considerably
Rundu said that final numbers of students in schools should be clear by September 10.
"We'll get feedback from schools regarding compliance with compulsory school attendance once this date has passed — then we'll see which of the children are present and which aren't," he explained. "Unfortunately we've also received feedback that children who should be in school already are still on summer vacation in Ukraine or haven't returned for some other reason."
If a child misses school unexcused, the family will have to explain the absence to social pedagogues or child protection.
"Schools act with Ukrainian children as they do with Estonian students," Rundu said. "If they've been assigned to schools, then schools will start monitoring compliance with compulsory school attendance and social pedagogues will start keeping track, and from there they will start cooperating together with child protection and local governments already. I believe we'll be receiving 'missing children' numbers toward the end of September."
Ukrainian children's experiences at Estonian schools have "varied considerably" thus far, but feedback from schools has been positive, he said.
"Some offered children an adaptation program together with recreational activities and language learning, but in some places they were folded right into studies," the department director said. "Now there are schools where students are studying together with our own students, but there are also schools where they are in separate classes and they may also study on an evening shift as they don't all fit into the daytime [shift]."
A total of 1,509 Ukrainian children and young people started school in Tallinn at the beginning of September, including 460 young Ukrainians at the newly established Freedom School (Vabaduse Kool).
Of other general education schools in the Estonian capital, 43 students from Ukraine started school at Haabersti Russian High School, 117 at Tallinn Tõnismäe State High School, 19 at Old Town Educational College, 12 at Õismäe Russian Lyceum, 27 at Tallinn Mustjõe High School, 23 at Tallinn German High School, 42 at Tallinn 53rd High School, 18 at Tallinn French Lyceum and 39 at Tallinn Art High School.
Editor: Aili Vahtla