Jõhvi high school head: The language a school uses is up to the director

Jõhvi State High School.
Jõhvi State High School. Source: ERR

A state high school in the eastern Estonian town of Jõhvi is set to switch to Estonian language-only education from the start of the next academic year, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Monday.

The school says it is ready to offer support to teachers in the transition.

A little over half Jõhvi's 10,000 inhabitants are ethnic Russians. The state high school opened in 2015 and was originally scheduled to go to Estonian-only education by 2020.

At present, Jõhvi State High School (Riigigümnaasium), teaches math in Russian to those students who have graduated from the Russian-speaking basic school (põhikool), if they so desire. The Russian language itself, too, is taught in Russian, along the same lines.

The school's principal Tatjana Ait told AK that although the spring entrance exams showed that Covid-era remote learning had set-back Estonian language learning, which had nonetheless improved in the meantime, the school's transition to full Estonian-language education would not be postponed.

Ait said: "A year-and-a-half of Covid led to not one, but several steps backward. Perhaps I'm an impatient person and I can't wait, and since I knew we were moving in this direction anyway, why are we still waiting," adding that aid to basic school teachers in preparing pupils for Estonian-language study at the school would be provided.

Since the nearby Kohtla-Järve State High School is also Estonian-speaking, the nearest option where high school education, albeit partly, is available in Russian is at the Sillamäe High School, adjacent to the vocational education center. A so-called 60:40 curriculum (in favor of Estonian) is implemented there.

Arno Kaseniit, principal of the Sillamäe school, says that as long as Russian basic schools are not able to teach Estonian at the required level, gymnasiums must offer Russian youth the opportunity to learn in their mother tongue.

"Unfortunately, some will not be able to cope with teaching those pupils who do not speak Estonian at a high level. We have this competence and we are based on learner-centeredness and the fact that a student is better off in school than on the street," Kaseniit said.

Tatjana Ait said that much depends on the attitude of the heads of educational institutions as to when schools transition to full teaching in Estonian.

"Everything depends on the head of the school, how he or she thinks and what they think. I would arrange things so that from September 1, 2023, all education will be in Estonian," he said.

The Ministry of Education and Research provides for the transition of kindergartens and general education schools to Estonian by the fall of 2030 at the latest.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mari Peegel

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