Boosting average teachers' wages to €2,000 gross per month will cost the state around €100 million, Education Minister Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa) says.
Speaking to ETV politics discussion show "Esimene stuudio" Wednesday, Lukas said: "By current estimates, in order to prevent resentment among educators and ensure that we keep up with inflation somewhat, and do not fall short, we need nearly €100 million. That is certainly a lot of money, and we have to take it into account."
The figure of €2,000 per month is nonetheless the sum he is aiming for, and would also require some rationalization of work-flows in schools, Lukas said.
Lukas noted that around 83 percent of teaching staff are full-time, with a standard workload, with exceptions to this including those who do not have a standard workload yet, but where there is scope for combining these, particularly in smaller schools, and to utilize teachers whose main subject does not result in a full workload to teach other subjects and classes.
A switch to Estonian-only education as planned by his party and by the current government, will also lead to some predominantly Russian-language schools closing their doors, he added.
Furthermore, teachers who are soon to retire, or who will not be able to continue due to a lack of qualification, will not be fully replaced by the intake of required subject teachers, which adds to the need to combine subjects with teachers, at least at elementary (algkool) and basic (põhikool) levels.
High schools (gümnaasium) would still require teachers who specialize in their subjects, he said.
Attracting qualified teachers who have left the sector is also a must, he said.
No long-range plans are in place for Ukrainian pupils remaining in Estonia years from now, the minister went on, but rather efforts to integrate Ukrainian schoolchildren whose families had fled the current conflict will pay off for all parties, should it turn out that they remain in Estonia
Of the around 8,000 Ukrainian children who have arrived in Estonia since the Russian invasion starting in late February, approximately 2,700 are not registered with any school, he added, and said that the assumption was that these children had already left Estonia.
"The fate of the refugees is actually quite dramatic, we have to consider that their integration into the local society - if it is possible at all - is difficult," the minister said.
For many children the experiences have been traumatic, meaning there is a need to care for them pastorally, both if they stay in Estonia or plan to return to Ukraine at some point, Lukas added, noting this was a subject on which communication with local government was needed.
This ties in with the need to switch to Estonian-only education as soon as possible, Lukas added, along with those Russian children coming here, who must not be left out of the system and society by attending Russian-language schools.
Legislative changes are needed to switch to Estonian-only education in first to fourth grades, in those schools still using Russian, Lukas said – the aim is to pass the law at the Riigikogu in November, he added, and said his ministry has made the required preparations for that outcome.
It also requires funding, he added, including extra places in higher education for trainee teachers, and additional funds are being requested.
Lukas put a figure of €41 million for next year, for the switch to education in Estonian, adding that this will rise in subsequent years, while Ida-Viru County in particular will require extra funding.
Many Russian-speaking teachers have on their own initiative asked school principals for assistance in improving their Estonian, he said.
Increased funding to higher education will also give universities the confidence to make long-term plans, Lukas said, adding that free Estonian-language higher education must be preserved in at least one curriculum and in every field
On Wednesday, Lukas said that teachers' average salaries should be 25 percent more than the national average, which would take the figure to close to €2,000 gross per month.
Lukas made his remarks against the backdrop of potential teachers' strikes.
Editor: Andrew Whyte