Schools facing difficult choices over Ukrainian students' progress

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

School leaders are debating how to move forward with Ukrainian students who study in Estonian language schools as many children have struggled this year. The Ministry of Education says it will be possible to repeat a school year.

Tuesday's "Aktuaalne kaamera" visited Türi basic school which has 20 Ukrainian pupils. In addition to regular lessons, they study Estonian twice a week.

Ave-Maria Toots, the school's coordinator for children with special educational needs, said skills tend to depend on families.

"Families who have set their priorities — we are here, we live here, we study here — their children do better in school. But those who are living out of suitcases — don't know what tomorrow will bring, maybe we'll go back — have less motivation," Toots told "AK".

This year, children were not graded for the classes they took. Some families argue their children have lost a school year as they were placed in classes with pupils in the same age group and that their Ukrainian education was not taken into consideration.

September 1 2022 at the Kristiine High School and the Freedom School (Vabaduse Kool), both in Tallinn. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Ukrainian teacher Ljubov Stepanova said it was heard at the beginning but many were happy to learn Estonian. "The best way to learn any language is to blend into the environment," she said.

Forty refugee children are studying at Tallinn Südalinna School, and the school has a lot of experience teaching children from abroad.

"New immigrants who come from other countries, who don't have any language skills other than their own, in some cases they learn Estonian much faster because they have no one to communicate with in their own language. But as soon as there is a chance to get to grips with English, the ability or willingness and desire to learn Estonian begins to recede," said Veiko Rohunurm, head of Tallinna Südalinna School.

Younger children tend to have fewer problems but motivation drops off in older classes.

The start of the school year at Vabaduse kool (Freedom School) in Tallinn on September 1, 2022. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Tallinna Südalinna School has a separate fifth-grade class for Ukrainians, but Rohunurm said Estonian language skills do not yet meet the level required to pass the year.

Ingar Dubolazov, head of the transition to Estonian-language teaching at the Ministry of Education and Research, said: "With the agreement of a parent, you can stay on to repeat a class and this practice is often used to help you progress. We have also had a lot of this practice at the [Ukrainian] Vabaduse School."

Without parental agreement, children must carry on to the next class regardless of their level of education.

The ministry treats all children as if they plan to stay in Estonia for the foreseeable future and offers them extra language training.

Next autumn, Estonia will start its transition to Estonian language education and exceptions will not be granted to schools that currently only teach Ukrainians, such as Räägu and Vabaduse schools.


Follow ERR News on Facebook and Twitter and never miss an update!

Editor: Marko Tooming, Helen Wright

Hea lugeja, näeme et kasutate vanemat brauseri versiooni või vähelevinud brauserit.

Parema ja terviklikuma kasutajakogemuse tagamiseks soovitame alla laadida uusim versioon mõnest meie toetatud brauserist: