Ministry rejects Alutaguse Municipality call for state takeover of schools

Iisaku High School.
Iisaku High School. Source: Dmitri Fedotkin/ERR

A municipality in Ida-Viru County says it wants to hand over management of its schools to state control, as is the case with many schools in predominantly Russian-speaking areas of the region.

However, since this particular municipality, Alutaguse, on the north shore of Lake Peipus, population a little under 5,000, is largely Estonian-speaking, the Ministry of Education has rejected effectively nationalizing its schools, ahead of the move to attaining the goal of Estonian-only education, nationwide.

Five of the eight municipalities in Ida-Viru County have state-run schools, but Alutaguse is not one of them.

The upcoming school year will see 407 students enrolled at the three schools in the municipality, 44 of them in first grade.

Marek Kullamägi, Alutaguse municipal council chair, told ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" that: "Our main fear is that the ministry will offer better conditions at state schools in in other municipalities, both in terms of learning conditions for students and salaries for teachers, while our Estonian-language schools may die out in Ida-Viru County."

Several state high schools (Riigigümnaasiumid) are now being built in Estonia, including one in Narva.

"The behavior of the ministry should be one of ensuring equality for all," Kullamägi added.

Minister of Education Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200) said: "As for these schools which had Estonian as their language of instruction, but which are located in a predominantly Russian-speaking environment, and are threatened by the loss of high-quality Estonian-language education and the introduction of Russian-language education; well the nationalization of these schools is justified with regard to the transition to Estonian-language education. However, in the case of Alutaguse, this is not simply a matter of schools within a Russian-speaking environment."

Minister Kallas noted that in the course of the nationwide transition to Estonian-only education, nationalizing elementary schools in predominantly Russian-speaking municipalities in Ida-Viru County is required. 

One other exception has been made for the junior high school in Lüganuse Municipality, to the northwest of Alutaguse, however.

Annely Oone, chair of the board of trustees at Iisaku High School, in Alutaguse municipality, told AK she is of the opinion that state high schools should be establishedin rural areas in Ida-Viru County, in addition to those in the towns, in order to retain vitality and help stem population outflows.

Alutaguse Municipality has two junior high schools (Põhikool) and one combination junior high school-high school (Põhikool-Gümnaasium). The municiaplity presented its proposal on the nationalization of its schools at a meeting on Wednesday with Minister of Education Kallas.

The minister remained unmoved however, saying she saw no need to establish a seventh state high school in Ida-Viru County, particularly since only two students attend 10th grade at the high school in Iisaku.

"We don't have a shortage ofhigh school places in Ida-Viru County, and this is also demonstrated by the fact that getting attendance at Iisaku's high school has become more difficult over the years," Minister Kallas said.

Making the transition from a combination of Russian-language and Estonian-language education in schools in areas where the local population is predominantly Russian-speaking, to all-Estonian language education, was one of the points outlined in the Reform-Eesti 200-SDE coalition agreement signed in April.


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Editor: Michael Cole, Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael

Source: 'Aktuaalne kaamera', reporter Rene Kundla.

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