Number of Ukrainian students in Estonia has not fallen

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

The number of Ukrainian students has not decreased significantly. While separate classes for Ukrainian children were set up in schools last year, the Ministry of Education believes that children who had been studying there should now transfer to Estonian schools as soon as possible.

560 children attended the Freedom School for Ukrainian children's opening ceremony last year. Three weeks before the end-of-year ceremony, it is still unclear how lengthy the procession will be this year.

"Each class has five parallels, so there are about 100-110 students in the same grade. Actually, only five students left, which is a small number. On the contrary, there is a lot of interest in our school, especially at the elementary level," said the Freedom School's head teacher, Olga Selishtcheva.

Because the seventh and eighth grades have so many applicants, a sixth concurrent class is currently being considered. Few applicants to Freedom School are from Ukraine; the majority of pupils will be transferring from other schools.

According to the school's principal, some of the newcomers have resided in Estonia for a year but have never attended classes here.

Selishtcheva said that the Freedom School will remain operational for as long as required. She said, "We would very much like there to be no need for such a school with this concept."

The Räägu School has three parallel programs for students in grades one through six, whereas the Freedom School has only two.

The head of the Tallinn Education Board, Kaarel Rundu, said the school will again accept three classes of first-graders in the fall, and there are many applicants.

However, the future of separate Ukrainian classes in institutions such as the South City School and the English College is currently under discussion.

"It is not ruled out that some of these will continue where they are open, but the feedback from schools is that there is a desire to quickly integrate and disperse them," Rundu said.

The refugee boat placed a tremendous strain on city-center schools last year, but there are no longer any concerns.

However, Tallinn is struggling to deal with so-called 'phantom children' who left Estonia without notifying their schools. Without parental consent, they have no recourse to expulsion.

Unfortunately, a legislative amendment proposed by the Ministry of Education meant to help in this situation was thwarted by an obstruction in the spring legislature.

"Our guiding principle is that if they remain in Estonia for an extended period, they should attend a regular school where Estonian is the primary language of instruction and they should be integrated into our regular courses. This is not the case at present, according to Piret Sapp, adviser for cooperation between local authorities and the school network at the Ministry of Education and Research.

In 2023, nearly 8,500 Ukrainian children were enrolled in educational institutions, with 65 percent attending primary school, 25 percent attending kindergarten, and 10 percent attending secondary or vocational school.


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Editor: Merili Nael, Kristina Kersa

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