Estonian-education may mean some pupils placed in Russian-speaking schools

Empty classroom in an Estonian school. Photo is illustrative.
Empty classroom in an Estonian school. Photo is illustrative. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

In Tallinn, in addition to parents' preferences, proximity to home is also taken into account when allocating places for children at the city's schools. With all first grade classes to be taught entirely in Estonian starting from the next school year, some Estonian children may end up being given places in schools where Russian has, up to now, been the only language of instruction.

The switch to Estonian-language education means that from the next academic year, all students studying in the first and fourth grades will be taught entirely in Estonian. The City of Tallinn will therefore change its system for allocating places at schools, reports ETV show "Aktuaalne kaamera."

"Indeed, if a parent does not submit an application, then of course a situation could arise whereby a child whose first language is Estonian, potentially ends up in school where the Estonian language is not spoken [outside their classroom – ed. ]. This cannot ruled out," Tallinn Deputy Mayor Andrei Kante (Center) said.

Every year, the capital allocates school places to around 200 children, whose parents have not indicated which school they would like their child to attend. There has been a lot of talk about supporting Russian-speaking teachers and providing in-service training as part of the transition to Estonian-language education. However, some teachers may find themselves in a difficult situation, as more and more Russian-speaking families prefer their children to attend entirely Estonian-speaking schools.

"Any teacher who teaches in a multilingual environment has to be proficient in integrating both the subject matter and language learning methodologies. And it will certainly be necessary to have assistant teachers or teaching assistants in these schools," said Kante.

There are 30 children in class 1B at Õismäe High School, a third of whom are not Estonian. These children have one additional Estonian language lesson per week and also have the opportunity to practice their Estonian language skills in learning support classes, if necessary. According to teacher Kristel Kippel, classes like hers could do with an extra teacher to help support the weaker pupils.

"The most difficult thing is that they just can't understand sentences, they can't even understand all the words. If you can't understand, you can't even start the task. When I ask a question, they are silent," said Kippel.

According to Kippel, this leads to the pace of lessons being slowed down as she has to explain tasks several times, and work with pupils who are not as proficient in the Estonian language, separately.

"Motivate them to think and ask questions. They don't dare ask questions, because there are so many children and not enough time, 45 minutes, and not all the children get enough time to talk, to think, to participate," said Kippel.

The city is promising to pay teaching assistants' salaries, and so it is down to each school to decide individually which classes require their services. The situation in kindergartens is even more complicated than in schools. More than 300 teachers, who work in kindergartens where Russian is the language of instruction, will not be able to learn Estonian to the required level by the fall and therefore, will not be able to continue in their current roles, according to Kante. However, finding new teachers is already very difficult.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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