State to invest millions to improve Russian teachers' Estonian proficiency

An Estonian-language teacher at work.
An Estonian-language teacher at work. Source: Ministry of Education and Research

Estonia hopes to receive €4.5 million from the European Social Fund over a period of seven years in order to improve the Estonian language skills of teachers in Russian schools. Once the funding is in place, teacher education for teachers will be just beginning.

Although universities claim to have educated a large number of Estonian teachers, many of them are not working in their field of study.

With the transition to Estonian-language education set to begin in 2024, finding thousands of language instructors for teachers in Russian schools, who are currently teaching in Russian is critical.

In December, the Ministry of Education was actively seeking people interested in teaching Estonian. "We needed an additional 75 people who wanted to be language instructors for beginners. Within a day and a half, 140 people applied," Ingar Dubolazov, the Ministry of Education's transition to teaching in Estonian specialist, said.

The greatest current shortage, according to Dubolazov, is of advanced-level language teachers, but one of the solutions to this shortage is to train entry-level language teachers as soon as possible.

"So that teachers who can teach at the B2 and C1 levels would not be stuck teaching at the beginner level," Dubolazov explained. The European Social Fund (ESF) will provide €4.5 million over seven years to help 2,800 Russian school teachers improve their Estonian language skills. This is the number of educators with inadequate Estonian language skills, according to the Language Board (Keeleamet). 

More qualified language teachers will be required. Tallinn University's two master's degree programs in this discipline were overwhelmed by the number of applicants. "However, there were many native Russian speakers with insufficient Estonian skills and native Estonian speakers with insufficient Russian skills. The problem is that, while they are motivated to become teachers, they frequently lack adequate preparation," Tallinn University's Vice Rector for Educational Innovation, Kristi Klaasmagi, said.

The university intends to launch four new microcourses in the fall to give prospective teachers a taste of Estonian language, literature and pedagogy.

The University of Tartu already provides a microcourse opportunity to become an Estonian language instructor for adults, and despite the fact that it is a paid course, there were more applicants for the course than spaces available last year.

Microcredits for general education will not be available for another year. "This training contract would be funded by European structural funds, but from what I understand, these funds are extremely difficult to obtain. They should be mobilized before the end of the year, allowing us to start in January," Birute Klaas-Lang, professor of Estonian as a foreign language at the Institute of Estonian and General Linguistics at the University of Tartu, said.

"From the standpoint of language learning, we are a little past the starting line; it is critical to maintain stamina all the way throughout," Dubolazov said.


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Editor: Marko Tooming, Kristina Kersa

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