Metsküla elementary school (Metsküla Algkool) in Lääne County has been named school of the year 2023.
The winning school received the most public votes and jury support from a dozen shortlisted, and is the second year in a row that a school in Lääne County, one of Estonia's least populous counties, took victory.
The winner was announced on ETV morning show "Terevisioon" Friday morning, and as per tradition, Friday's edition of the show is being broadcast from the school at the time of writing, hosted by presenters Liisu Lass and Veronika Uibo, with plenty of pupils from the school appearing as guests.
The prize is also significant in that the school is one of several which has been facing the threat of closure, due in part to its small size – there are 21 pupils at the small village school.
Pille Kaisel, the schools' director, said winning the gong represented major recognition.
"Perhaps more weight was given in the public vote due to our drawing attention to the current, major concerns over sparsely populated areas of Estonia and their schools, plus in this regard, the general development of the more peripheral counties," Kaisel said.
"In small communities, a good school provides a center, that can unite and bind together. And not only that – a good village school acts as a honey-pot for newly-arriving, young families, who otherwise would likely not even consider a move to the countryside," she went on.
Jaak Raie, Director General of the Education and Youth Board (HARNO), which organizes the competition, said that the school of the year contest, now in its sixth year, continues to be a popular one for all schools in Estonia.
Raie said: "Taking part in this competition means a school to sitting down together and taking the time to take stock of what is good about the school. We are delighted that so many schools take the time to do this and demonstrate their most positive sides to outsiders."
Raie added that the focus of this year's competition was exciting learning environments in schools, and that it was pleasing to see so many stellar schools which offer diverse opportunities for young people's development.
Lääeranna Rural Municipality plans to consolidate the local school network, which would involve the closure of the Metsküla school, along with another school in Lõpe, Pärnu County, as well as the reduction in size of a school at Virtsu, also in Lääne County.
However, all three schools had, spearheaded by parents, applied for, and been granted, preliminary legal protection in order to stave the closures off; the municipality has appealed that decision in respect of the Virtsu school and says it intends to do so with Metsküla and Lõpe's schools too.
The Vabaduse Kool in Tallinn took second place, followed by Järveotsa High School, also in Tallinn.
Forty general education schools applied for the competition this year, with the result as noted determined by a combination of jury scoring and popular vote.
The jury members were chosen from the Ministry of Education and Research and its agencies, public broadcaster ERR, student union representatives and one social media influencer.
The other shortlisted schools were: Albu põhikool, Jõhvi gümnaasium, Kohtla-Järve gümnaasium, Metsküla algkool, Pärnu Mai kool, Püha Johannese kool, Tabasalu gümnaasium, Tallinna Järveotsa gümnaasium, Tallinna Tõnismäe riigigümnaasiumi Vabaduse kool and the TERA Peedu kool.
Algkool equates roughly to elementary school, põhikool approximately to junior high and gümnaasium to high school. Attendance is mandatory up to the end of põhikool level.
On March 24 this year, the Lääneranna rural municipality decided to close the Metsküla and Lõpe schools from the fall, and to reduce Virtsu school's scope from its põhikool status, to a four-grade school, from fall 2024, while Varbla and Koonga schools would be converted to six-grade schools from that time.
Parents opposing the decision appealed to the first-tier Tallinn Administrative Court, and obtained the preliminary legal protection in each case.
Last year's winner was Läänemaa Ühisgümnaasium, preceded by Uulu eleentary school in 2021, Võru Gümnaasium in 2020, Viljandi Gümnaasium in 2019 and Tallinn 32. Keskkool in 2018 – the year the competition was first held.
Editor: Andrew Whyte