Planned changes to legislation on Estonian language skill requirements proposed by the Ministry of Education and Research must be rejected as they do not fully take into account realities, and demand something from both Estonians and foreign residents here which cannot be met, Minister of Culture Piret Hartman (SDE) argues in an opinion piece published by daily Eesti Päevaleht (EPL).
While the development of the Estonian language is of fundamental importance to Estonian culture, this must be done systematically and intelligently, by training more Estonian language teachers and creating more Estonian language houses, for instance, Hartman writes in EPL (link in Estonian), adding that her ministry already has several useful proposals in that direction.
The number of people who want to learn Estonian as a second language outstrips the supply of teachers who can help them several times over, the minister goes on – the training of more teachers, however, is a matter for the Ministry of Education, rather than the culture ministry.
Meanwhile the tightening of language requirements on employees of digital platforms which provide food courier or taxi services, for instance, will not only mean those who would like to work legitimately not being able to do so, but also a growth both in those working illegally or in gray areas, and in the number of people claimiing unemployment benefits, she adds.
Other countries' experience shows that taxi driver as a job is one of the most commonly taken up by refugees – including Ukrainians.
While all must be done to ensure those that want or need to reach the benchmark level - B1 in the Common European Framework – even teachers working in Estonian schools, arouind 2,000 in total, still do not have Estonian at an adequate level, so this must be addressed too, Hartman argues.
As for the B1 requirement for Bolt and Wolt couriers and taxi drivers, insuficcient analysis has been carried out on whether the legal basis for amending legislation is sound, while putting the same B1 requirement on those only recently arrived in Estonia, as compared with people who have been or will be here five or more years, is short sighted.
For these reasons, the culture ministry cannot coordinate the education ministry's bill to amend the two relevant pieces of legislation – the Language Act, and the Public Transport Act, Hartman continues.
Ultimately the opportunity to find work in areas where only simple communication is required should not be taken away; .solutions might include language acquisition in parallel with working – not least because on-the-job practice is one way in which language skills can be improved.
The original EPL piece (in Estonian) is here.
The recent bill would bring a requirement of B1-level Estonia to employees working for digital platforms like Bolt and Wolt, and would set a limit on non-Estonian audio advertising in shopping malls and other public places, among other changes.
The current education minister is Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa).
With a general election looming, any bills which need to be passed into law at the Riigikogu only have a window of a few more weeks in which to be processed.
Editor: Andrew Whyte