The desire to accelerate the transition to using only Estonian as the language of instruction in all the country's educational institutions, creates an increased need for suitably qualified teachers. Ingar Dubolazov, head of the transition to Estonian-language teaching at the Ministry of Education and Research, told ERR that, starting from the next academic year, there will be an additional 400 places available for students on teacher training courses at Estonia's leading universities.
The additional places for students on teacher training programs will be made available at Tallinn University, the University of Tartu (UT) and UT's Narva College. In financial terms, the increase will cost the Estonian state around €8.5 million a year.
There have also been suggestions of setting up a teacher training scholarship, which could help to ensure better occupancy rates on the programs.
Dubolazov said, that at the moment, the number of students enrolled in teacher training courses is less than the ministry would consider ideal.
"To address this, we are planning to start providing students with a monthly stipend to fill the places. This is another point that we have to finalize but hopefully we will reach an agreement with the universities this month," he said.
Two thirds of the additional places will be at the University of Tartu.
Aune Valk, vice rector of education at the University of Tartu, said that the number of additional places planned on teacher training programs, would more than double the number of students currently enrolled.
"It's a very big jump, a huge leap. The increase in the number of teacher training places is a huge, said Valk, adding that Narva College, where additional classes will definitely be opening, is likely to feel the biggest impact of the changes.
At Tallinn University, Vice Rector for Educational Innovation Kristi Klaasmägi said, that there will be an additional 180 places on teacher training and special education courses in the next academic year. The increased interest in teaching in recent years may help to fill these additional places with students during the summer intake.
"If we look at the data from the last five or six years, the number of applications has increased quite a lot. There is a lot of interest in becoming a teacher. It's not uniformly high across all (teaching) specialties though. In some specialties, like science and physics (teaching), there's more of a concern, but the potential and interest from people is there," Klaasmägi added.
Klaasmägi also said, that Tallinn University has agreed with the Ministry of Education and Research, that it will offer additional Estonian language courses. The courses will be aimed at those who are planning to study to become teachers, as well as those who have already enrolled in teacher training, but do not speak Estonian as a first language.
Similar arrangements to facilitate Estonian language learning have also been put in place at the University of Tartu. "One of them involves students at (University of Tartu's) Narva College having a compulsory two-month stay in Tartu, so that they would be in a truly Estonian-speaking environment," explained Valk. "The other is a language counselling service for students to support (the development of) their writing skills on an individual basis."
Editor: Michael Cole