The total number of high schools (Gümnaasiumid) in Estonia, 158, is too high, education minister Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200) says.
This is because the number of high school age pupils in Estonia is sufficient to support 100 such schools, she added.
The number of students is one important aspect. According to Kallas, the need for investment is another; at high school level, there is a very large number of openings for teachers, given there is a significant need for more subject teachers.
Speaking to ERR radio show "Uudis+" Friday, Kallas said: "But we have to optimize the high school network. We cannot continue in the long term with158 of these as we currently have, as we have about 100 high schools'-worth of children in high schools nationwide."
While the debate primarily focuses on hiking teachers minimum wages, Kallas considered it more important to raise a so-called differentiation fund, in view of the future. This is intended for various additional fees or the payment of a higher monthly salary, which is decided by the head of the school or the head of the school.
At a meeting held Friday with the union of education workers, Kallas presented a proposal to allocate €8 million towards wage salary increase for teachers, which came from within the ministry itself.
However, the fact that additional money for teacher wage hikes can only come from within the education sector is not a realistic expectation, according to Kallas.
"This would mean, for example, cutting subsidies for higher education, research or hobby schools. /.../ But within the field of education, redistributing money to education does not bring wealth," she said.
Money in the government sector's education arena comes to €2.4 billion, of which the Ministry of Education and Researches' own share is €940 million. The remainder derives from municipalities, or from grants from the Ministry of Finance.
According to Kallas, there are funds there which could be transferred to raise teachers' pay.
Kallas referred to the analysis by former University of Tartu rector, former Taltech rector and former government minister Jaak Aaviksoo, whose research Kallas ordered.
Initial feedback from Aaviksoo's analysis of the education field is that Estonia invests twice as much in real estate connected to education – school buildings etc. - as do other countries. Therefore, a review is required, in order to achieve a better balance between teachers' salaries and infrastructure investments in the long term, Kallas added.
Several new state high schools (Riigigümnaasiumid) are under construction; however these are located either in areas of high population (Tallinn) or which are seen as required destinations for better investment (Narva).
Editor: Andrew Whyte