Minister of Education and Research Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200) believes the high school portion – i.e. grades 10-12 – of dozens of schools should be closed, as there are too many high schools in Estonia in relation to the overall number of high school students. Which schools would cut its top grade levels would depend on factors including student numbers and location.
Peipsi High School has an overall student population of 133. Just 22 of the students, however, are in grades 10-12. Principal Riina Koolmeister says that it's evident that the school's high school portion will likely shrink even more next year, putting the school at risk of being shut down.
"We have a relatively small municipality and we have two high schools," Koolmeister noted. "And it certainly isn't reasonable to maintain two high schools with such a small number of children and in such a small municipality."
According to the minister of education, the transfer of students and closure of some schools are part of Estonia's nationwide school network reform, with which the state intends to take more responsibility for the organization of post-basic education – i.e. beyond the 9th grade level, which is compulsory.
Kallas noted that currently, a total of 158 schools across the country provide high school-level education, however in reality there are only enough high school students for around 90.
"Those high schools where there are currently 20 or 30 students aren't going to grow big; rather, they're tending to get smaller and smaller," she said. "The Foresight Center report very clearly told us that the biggest shortage of teachers is and greatest future need for teachers will be in these small high schools. We unfortunately have to realize that we need to relocate these high school spots, so to speak – meaning transfer them from these small schools to bigger state high schools."
Former education minister Jaak Aaviksoo (Isamaa) believes that the country's overall school network needs to be condensed as well, as it isn't possible to invest enough in its small schools to ensure a high-quality learning environment.
"In order to create a learning environment – both social as well as material infrastructure – you still need a couple of hundred, and better yet three or four hundred students," Aavikso commented. "There isn't enough for everywhere, but I think there would be enough for most county seats, and there should be enough for major cities and Tallinn's metro area as well."
Kallas noted that there are currently 37 high schools with student populations of under 100 and where funding per student doesn't cover high school-level costs. Whether a given school's high school grade levels will be cut, however, will depend on what other educational opportunities exist in the area.
Koolmeister, the principal at Peipsi High School, said that should the school's high school portion be closed, it would mean that students will have to start attending school further away from home. She added, however, that these expenses cannot be left up to their parents to bear, stressing that it's the state that must ensure the opportunity to get an education.
"This means running school buses; this means the opportunity for [accommodations in a student] dormitory; this also means the provision of school meals to some extent, if a student's commute home is so long that their day ends up being a long one," Kallas acknowledged. "There are a lot of elements to consider."
Editor: Aili Vahtla