Mayor of Tallinn Mihhail Kõlvart (Center) suggested that the Isamaa party wants to prevent Russian-speaking students from attending Estonian schools, while the planned education reform will not achieve that. Minister of Culture Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa) said that the risk of Estonian schools seeing too many students is created if Russian schools are not switched to teaching in Estonia.
Kõlvart said that the government's planned switch to Estonian education is presented as an education project and not a systematic change.
"There may be different approaches here, but everybody understands that everyone needs to be given the chance to study in Estonian. It seems to me that politicians at times pretend like someone still needs convincing in terms of the need for and importance of Estonian and the possibilities of learning in Estonian. There is no such problem in society, including among Russian-speaking people. The problem is that there are no resources [for the reform]," he commented, appearing on the "Esimene stuudio" evening talk show alongside Minister of Education Tõnis Lukas.
The mayor added that a few Russian schools should be retained to enrich the education landscape once everyone has been given the chance to study in Estonian in the future.
Kõlvart suggested that Isamaa could end up with the opposite of what they wanted as a result of the reform.
"It seems that Isamaa want the reform to keep Russian children out of Estonian schools. Different politicians have suggested as much. But I would suggest that the switch we are seeing right now, that's been hardcoded into the system, will yield the opposite effect. Because the quality of Russian schools will suffer, more students will want to attend Estonian schools."
Minister of Education Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa) said there is risk of Estonian schools being clogged up with new students and the workload of teachers exploding if Russian schools are not switched to teaching in Estonian.
"People are already voting with their feet so to speak. A third of children from non-Estonian-speaking families go to Estonian schools as it is. It is difficult methodologically, in terms of bigger classes and many other aspects. The simplest way to prevent excessive workload of Estonian teachers is to take Estonian into Russian schools," he said.
Lukas said that while he has been criticized for failure to make the switch happen in previous governments, Isamaa have always supported the transition. The minister added that the ruling coalition today is the first where the switch can be made.
"Every time Isamaa have held the education portfolio, we have fought for education in Estonian. Efforts have concentrated on the high school level as there has not been political consensus for transitioning the entire system. Right now, we have the first coalition where Isamaa can realize this part of our program. Opposition has mostly come from the Center Party, while steps have also been taken by those who have wished to be their partners," he suggested.
Mihhail Kõlvart said that the switch to Estonian learning should start with universities ramping up teacher training and making sure the volume of Estonian education and professors is retained on the higher education level.
Lukas said that universities' new operating subsidy contracts include items meant to ensure Estonian higher education. "One important principle included in the contracts is making sure we have more Estonian teaching, research, lecturers etc."
Editor: Marcus Turovski