Kallas and Lukas: Tallinn trying to sabotage switch to teaching in Estonian

Tõnis Lukas and Kristina Kallas.
Tõnis Lukas and Kristina Kallas. Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

Minister of Education and Research Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200) and former Education Minister Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa) find that sending kids who speak Estonian at home to the capital's Russian schools that must switch to teaching in Estonian amounts to a conscious plan by the city authorities to sabotage and discredit the transition.

"Tallinn is allegedly planning to mix Estonian and Russian-speaking students in classes where study methods have not been tailored to their needs. This is not the right way to go about it and betrays a desire to sabotage the switch to teaching in Estonian," Kristina Kallas said, commenting on a recent news story on how kids in Tallinn might end up in Russian schools as a result of the study language transition.

The minister said that studies need to consider a student's language proficiency and be a good fit linguistically and in terms of the methodology used.

"Putting an Estonian-speaking child in a class where special methodology is used to teach kids who do not speak Estonian is not the right call. /.../ Just as you cannot have children who do not speak Estonian in an Estonian-speaking class without the necessary support and methods."

Kallas said that Estonia has long had methods for teaching first-graders who do not speak Estonian in the official language.

"I urge the Tallinn City Government to base decisions on the needs of children when it comes to study methodology and class placement, as opposed to hitching student to its political wagon. Children [in Russian schools] who do not speak a sufficient level of Estonian can be taught using early language immersion techniques. While children who speak Estonian will have their own methods," the education minister said.

Lukas: Kõlvart driving Estonian-speakers to neighboring municipalities

Former Education Minister Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa) was just as critical and also found that the activities of Tallinn's leaders betray a plan to discredit switching to universal Estonian education.

"So, Kõlvart and Kante mean to carry out their plan to discredit the transition to teaching in Estonian by sending kids to first grade in schools that are otherwise (grades 2-12) completely Russian-speaking. They say that such a school is already Estonian-speaking, while that is simply not true – a school is classified as Estonian when it teaches fully in Estonian, not starting in 2024," Lukas remarked.

Lukas said that children who speak Estonian as their first language must be able to study in a fully Estonian environment.

"The city government's plan is simple – to force Estonian-speaking voters looking for Estonian schools for their children to move to the neighboring municipalities and secure a clear Russian-speaking electorate and power for years to come," Lukas said.

Estonia's switch to teaching in Estonian in all schools will see all first and fourth grades taught in the official language starting from next year. Tallinn has plans to change the system of school place allocation.

Mayor: Study quality reduction the real problem for Russian and Estonian students

"Indeed, if the parent does not apply [for an exception], it may happen that a child who speaks Estonian will be placed in a transitioning school. It is not out of the question," Tallinn Deputy Mayor Andre Kante (Center Party) told ERR Monday.

Center Party leader, Tallinn Mayor Mihhail Kõlvart told Vikerraadio that he trusts Andre Kante as the deputy mayor in charge of the transition because he goes beyond slogans.

"Andre Kante is the one who is handling all of this most effectively. Because he is creating a system for this that the state hasn't created. He's offering various options for how to support students and teachers. And what he was talking about was the quality of education! He wasn't just talking about Russians; he was talking about Estonian children – their quality of education is going to go down as well. And in light of this, he said that this could be taken as a rights violation – the decline in the quality of education, not the transition. The decline in the quality of education for both Russian students as well as Estonian students. It's going to happen. It's already happening. Are we going to just close our eyes to it and say that this issue doesn't exist or are we going to deal with it? Andrei Kante is dealing with this issue, and I support him!"

Several politicians who have recently left Center, often for Isamaa, have given the party's new leader and his supporters' alleged efforts to discredit the study language transition as the reason.


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Editor: Urmet Kook, Marcus Turovski

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