Jürgen Ligi (Reform), member of the Riigikogu, said in the debate program "Impulse" that, as far as he knows, teachers' salaries will not increase less than the forecast average salary increase of 6.6 percent next year.
Tallinn Mayor Mihhail Kõlvart (Center) said that any wage increase below the forecast average wage increase of 6.6 percent next year is not, in essence, a wage increase. Ligi (Reform) responded that, as far as he knew, teachers' salaries would rise by the same amount next year.
"I anticipate teachers' pay will rise of 6.6 percent also the next year. /.../ Ask the (education) minister if teachers are expecting lesser increase than that. Teachers' salaries probably won't go up any less than that. As far as I know at the moment, it will not go up any less. But I'm not the one who decides on it, and I could be wrong," he said.
As things stand, next year's increase in the minimum wage for teachers is 1.77 percent. Martin Saar, the head of the Tallinn high school and chemistry teacher, said that if the number stays the same, there is no way to avoid the teacher strike.
"I am, of course, willing to participate because I feel there is no other way to get a message across. I am very concerned about the succession of teachers in the profession. I would say that this strike is for the future of education in Estonia. Of course I know that a work stoppage does not create more money, but it seems to me that the scale of this crisis has not been understood so far, because solutions are being sought in a sham way. Next year's (national) budget will be bigger than this year's. The question is what choices we make, and they are purely political choices. And the political choice I propose is to invest in education, in teachers' salaries and in the creation of a career model," Saar said.
Saar added that the current minimum teacher salary of €1,749 is not a competitive salary to find the necessary science and maths teachers in upper secondary schools.
Kõlvart said that the shortage of teachers is no longer a critical but an existential problem. "Perhaps if we are talking about a budget, the attitude should not be based on Excel spreadsheets, but on values. Is the current situation dangerous – yes, it is. Is there a risk that the current teachers will leave the profession – yes. Are we seeing no new teachers streaming in – yes, we aren't. Next year's draft budget has a reserve fund of €120 million, compared to €30-40 million in the past. And to raise salaries by 10 percent, €32 million would be needed. This would be the right signal both for teachers and for society," he said.
Ligi said that there is no money to be taken from the government's reserve fund because it has already been earmarked for forecast expenditure. "This year, teachers' salaries increased by 24 percent. I wouldn't have done it, I can honestly say. It was unsustainable. /.../ You have to do these things slower," he said.
Saar said that teachers are highly skilled professionals with high expectations whose work is mentally and emotionally demanding. With no prospect of salary increases and career prospects destroyed by the abolition of the certification system, it is unlikely that the average age of our teachers, currently 49, will begin to fall.
"This means that all teachers now have the same minimum salary. (Yes,) a beginning teacher must have a competitive salary. But if you've been working for 20 years, if you've reached a very high level of professional excellence, your salary will still be the same as a beginning teacher. We have to have some kind of perspective, some kind of career model, otherwise we are just talking about a minimum wage. It is a great loss when teachers who are masters of their craft and in top form leave," Saar said.
Kristi Klaasimägi, vice rector for educational innovation at Tallinn University, said the state has also made decisions to attract more young teachers: "In the past two years, universities have increased the number of admissions to teacher training. But the number of people leaving the teaching profession is so high that it does not fill the gap.
"We're sending them to school, but with such a high dropout rate, there's no time to complete the work. It is about how teachers are supported at school so that they are pleased, as well as the career opportunities. I don't believe we need to boost starting teacher compensation, but we do need to raise the salary of our very professional teachers – if you've been teaching in a school for 10 or 15 years," Klaasimägi said.
At the same time, Kõlvart said that if the state does not solve the wage issue, the other issues will remain unresolved as well.
"Because if we don't get more teachers – and we won't get more teachers without pay raises – then there are no resources to reduce the burden on teachers. And if the teachers' workload is not lessened, then all the other changes and possibilities are out of the question. First of all, the burden on teachers has to be reduced; now it is actually increasing instead. Forthcoming reforms, additional requirements on teachers – all this is happening in a relatively short period of time," Kõlvart said, referring to the nation-wide transition to teaching in Estonian.
In Ligi's opinion, the current pay dispute has reached a situation, where the teacher profession is stigmatized, and dispute does nothing to increase its popularity.
"Negative signals alone can never solve the teacher shortage. If we believe that there is a shortage of teachers, we shouldn't be so dismissive of the profession. Perhaps we could develop the discussion in a more positive tone and give examples from statistics, that teachers' loyalty to their profession is not actually low. Yes, young teachers leave quickly, but there are also those who are lifelong teachers," the lifelong Reform MP said.
Editor: Marko Tooming, Kristina Kersa
Source: "Impulss", program hosts Uljana Kuzmina ja Anna Pihl