Wrong Estonian-language education deadline listed in coalition agreement

Whiteboard in a school classroom with Estonian writing on it. Photo is illustrative.
Whiteboard in a school classroom with Estonian writing on it. Photo is illustrative. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

While the newly inked coalition agreement between the Reform Party, Estonia 200 and the Social Democratic Party (SDE) states that early childhood education will transition to being fully Estonian-language in 2027, incoming education minister Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200) confirmed that this was a mistake in the agreement and that the transition will nonetheless in fact be taking place in 2024 already as previously planned.

Last December, the Riigikogu passed legislative amendments that would allow the country's education system to transition to fully Estonian-language education.

According to the action plan for the transition to Estonian-language education, the transition will first take place in the country's kindergartens, and thereafter in the 1st through 4th grades during the 2024-2025 school year.

The new coalition agreement signed Monday, however, states that Estonia's early childhood education in full would be transitioned to Estonian-language education by the year 2027.

Kristina Kallas, who is slated to serve as minister of education in Kaja Kallas' (Reform) third cabinet, confirmed to ERR that the new government isn't planning on slowing down the transition, and that the year 2027 being listed here was a mistake.

"It's still the case that as of September 1, 2024, all children must be receiving Estonian-language education [at the kindergarten level]," she said. "If it says 2027, then that's a mistake."

According to Kallas, other details involving the country's transition to Estonian-language education are also mostly the same as those provided for by the legislative amendments adopted last December.

One small difference she cited, however, is that schools will be allowed to merge after all — something of which the previous minister of education and research, Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa), was not in favor.

"If there are local governments where it makes sense to merge schools and conduct a transitional reform through that, then that we do favor," the Eesti 200 politician said, adding that the mergers to take effect from next school year happened anyway, such as a language immersion school in Tapa being merged into Tapa High School.

Lukas himself told ERR that he had asked acting prime minister Kaja Kallas about the clauses in the coalition agreement regarding the transition to Estonian-language education and that Kallas had confirmed to him that the law will not be changed and that the principles agreed to four months ago would remain in place.

"So Isamaa's chosen course will remain — in terms of both tempo and volumes," Lukas highlighted, emphasizing that transitioning to Estonian-language education must mean a full transition, not partially Estonian-language education.

Also included in the new coalition agreement is the statement that starting next fall, every kindergarten child will be ensured Estonian-language or language immersion education according to their skills and abilities. According to Lukas, however, these are two very different things, as language immersion is still only partially Estonian-language education.

The former education minister said he spoke with Kristina Kallas as well, and noted that she said being given a choice both in kindergarten and in basic school whether the transition is a complete one or whether it will take place via language immersion is merely a matter of methodology, not of model.

"Indeed, if the new government has stressed that the transition will take place by school, and that different models will be implemented in schools and schools can decide for themselves what transition model to use, then I intend to monitor very carefully whether it really is a complete transition," he added.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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