Higher teacher salary in Ida-Viru County sparks controversy

Maardu mayor Vladimir Arhipov (Center).
Maardu mayor Vladimir Arhipov (Center). Source: Sergei Stepanov/ERR

Assuming language requirements are met, increased teacher compensation in Ida-Viru County attracts teachers from beyond the County, leaving Russian-speaking communities in other regions in a difficult situation. Despite this, school administrators say that teachers lack motivation to improve their Estonian language skills.

As part of the transition to Estonian-language general education in Estonia, teachers in Ida-Viru County schools will receive a salary of nearly €3,000 beginning in the next academic year.

Next year's minimum wage will be €1,749 plus a multiplier of 1.5, which comes in addition to the workload and the class teacher's bonuses. As this new regulation only pertains to schools in Ida-Viru County, other municipalities feel left out.

For example, the Paldiski High School's teachers, student council and board of trustees protested to the Minister of Education a week ago.

Jaanus Saat, the mayor of Lääne-Harju municipality said that there are many Russian-speaking pupils in Paldiski: "Already today, 47 percent of pupils at the Paldiski High School speak a language other than their mother tongue, putting our teachers in a difficult position, and they are perhaps also expecting this type of heightened attention to the problem," Saat said.

"The pupils' varying levels of language skills also challenges teacher's ingenuity when it comes to delivering the lesson and producing instructional materials. This is another reason why teachers are leaving for schools in Ida-Viru County," Saat continued.

"The municipality has six schools, and all of them have indicated that the salary is what motivates teachers to leave. Our municipality already has a shortage of teachers; many of them work as substitutes, and their workloads are heavy. The farther you go from Tallinn, the more difficult it is to hire teachers, especially in our Russian-speaking regions," he explained.

Vladimir Arhipov, the mayor of Maardu, said that a coefficient equivalent to the one used in Ida-Viru County should be applied everywhere in Estonia.

The problem is especially acute for kindergarten teachers, he added.

"Kindergarten teachers here are already starting to look for cleaning jobs in two years' time from now. Most of those who work in nurseries will lose their jobs and be replaced by uneducated people who speak Estonian, but have little experience or training. The courses that are promised are no substitute for an experienced educator," Arhipov said.

Saat said that teachers' proficiency in Estonian is not very good.

"We do have an Estonian language house in the municipality, which provides aid in learning Estonian. Some of the teachers from our Russian-speaking schools are using the program and have begun learning the language in-depth, but I cannot say that there is much motivation. It is still expected that there will be some sort of an exception; that this reform will not affect the schools in our municipality. The realization that this decision is now final has not yet set in," Saat said.

Arhipov added that about 150 teachers do not meet the language criteria.

"Our teachers will not be able to master the language in such a short period of time. Clearly, we are aiming to hire as many new people as possible, but I am worried that this will not be possible."

Arhipov even said that while there will be a law mandating the use of Estonian language in schools, no one will be enforcing it.

"Of course this was handed over, but to whom? Municipalities! Municipal officials are now pondering hard who they could hire here, what they can do, whether they should go teach at a school in addition to their regular jobs. At the moment, I don't see anything positive about it. I have four kindergartens here, two of which can close immediately. Excellent educators are now looking for jobs as cleaners. What about the children, though? We may lose an entire generation if we take such decisions rashly," Arhipov said.


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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