New minister: Ida-Viru County schools need different methodology

Minister of Education Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200).
Minister of Education Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200). Source: Raigo Pajula/Office of the President

Schools in heavily Russian-speaking areas of Estonia will need a separate methodology for a switch to Estonian-only education, given the lack of a local Estonian-speaking environment, incoming Education Minister Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200) says.

Kallas made her remarks to ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) Tuesday, which reported that the deadline date for the switch to Estonian-only education has been moved back three years, at least as it is referred to in the new coalition deal.

There is also a lack of clarity about the teaching methodologies to be used in the transition, AK reported.

The exact plan for the transition to Estonian-language education for the Russian-language school remains a matter for the Tartu-based Ministry of Education and Research, which Kallas now heads up, taking over from Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa).

In the recently concluded coalition agreement between Kallas' party, Reform and the Social Democrats (SDE), leeway is in place for Russian children to have some opportunities to learn their own mother tongue, ie. Russian, and "their" culture also.

Kallas told AK that: "There is a some confusion with the terms, since language immersion refers both a school model where education is partly in Estonian and partly in Russian, as well as the actual teaching methodology itself. In other words, the methodology of teaching in Estonian also represents language immersion methodology."

Jevgeni Ossinovski (SDE), whose party is also in coalition with Eesti 200, said: "We have a fairly significant number of children from Russian-speaking families in Estonian-language schools who [already] study in Estonian."

This renders Russian lessons in Estonian schools, for Russian-speaking students, moribund, he added.

"We have a case where they have to learn Russian as a foreign language from the sixth grade, which is essentially a waste of time for them," Ossinovski went on.

This did not mean they would not continue to study Russian, simply that this would be done from a native-speaker perspective.

"They could then be freed up from having to learn Russian as a foreign language and instead use these lessons more meaningfully, in order to learn Russian as their mother tongue," Ossinovski said.

Meanwhile, Kristina Kallas said immersion classes in Russian will disappear, but the methodology itself will remain (for instance in learning Estonian for non-native speakers).

Regional distinctions written into the coalition agreement are necessary when transitioning to Estonian-language education, given the disparity in pace at which this would happen with native Estonian-speaking pupils versus non-native speakers.

Another consideration, Kallas said, is schools which currently teach solely in Russian. Since these are generally small, they might most logically be merged with a nearby Estonian-language school in many cases, she said.

"I will give the example of Kiviõli (in Ida-Viru County-ed.) or we are could also talk about Valga," Kallas added.

Valga lies on the border with Latvia and the town in fact straddles that divide, with Valka on the Latvian side part of the same conurbation.

Liina Kersna (Reform), a former education minister (2021-2022), however, told AK that a deadline of 2027 for all-Estonian education from kindergarten level had not been agreed upon by the three parties – the current deadline set by legislation is next year, 2024, and the agreement, Kersna said, was that this would not be deviated from.

Confusion also exists on whether non-native Estonian speakers would be provided with their Estonian education via the immersion method.

AK reported that the coalition agreement section on education starts with the sentence: "By 2027, we will have transferred all early childhood education in Estonia to the Estonian language, whereby children will attend a common kindergarten, regardless of the language spoken at home." 


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mari Peegel

Source: AK, interviewer Hanneli Rudi.

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