The Ministry of Education is planning to attract Estonian-speaking teachers to jobs in Ida-Viru County by offering higher salaries or bonuses, Minister of Education Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa) said on Friday.
Local newspaper Põhjarannik reported this week that many teachers in Ida-Viru County need to be replaced because they do not speak Estonian to a high enough level, but it is impossible to find applicants for vacant positions.
Attracting teachers who speak Estonian well enough to teach, and teach in, the language is difficult.
Lukas said there are no quick solutions to the problem, but the ministry is planning to give bonuses to Estonian-speaking teachers working in the country's most eastern county.
He said if an agreement is reached with the state budget then pay rises for education workers will be seen as a priority in both 2023 and 2024.
"There will be a sudden [salary] increase, and I hope that it will also have a good effect on the popularity of the teaching profession, and there is an argument that more people who speak Estonian well then become teachers in Ida-Viru County," he told ERR.
This scheme would also help schools such as the Ida-Viru County Vocational Education Center which is struggling to hire Estonian-speaking teachers and teaches much of its curriculum in Russian, he said.
Russian-speakers study at vocational schools due to poor language skills
Estonia plans to switch to a fully Estonian-language education system by 2030.
Former Minister of Education Liina Kersna (Reform Party) told ERR vocational schools must also make the change but this first requires full basic education to be taught in the state language.
Kersna said some Russian-speaking young people only choose to study at vocational colleges because they do not have a strong grasp of Estonian.
"This is clearly a problem. But the problem must be solved in elementary school," she said, adding the law states that 60 percent of teaching is already supposed to be in Estonian.
"[But] We know that this is often not the case in vocational schools," she stated.
The same problems exist in Tallinn too, she stressed, and both regions face the same root cause:
"The children have not acquired sufficient knowledge of the Estonian language in elementary school to continue studying in Estonian," the former minister said.
Editor: Helen Wright