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Ministry wants to send young children to daycare not nursery

A kindergarten.
A kindergarten. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The Ministry of Education plans to change the law so that local governments will have the obligation to offer kindergarten places for children aged three and older. Instead of nursery groups, younger children will be sent to daycare.

The Preschool Child Care Institutions Act obligates city or rural municipality governments to offer all children aged 18 months to seven years the chance to attend kindergarten locally if at least one of their parents lives in the local government's territory.

In practice, this is not always possible due to a lack of places, especially around the capital. Children up to three years old can be sent to a daycare instead of a kindergarten but only if the parent agrees.

As a backup measure, two new nursery groups have been opened in Loo, in Jõelähtme Municipality, this week but the competition for kindergarten places is unlikely to disappear anytime soon, Wednesday's "Aktuaalne kaamera" reported.

The Ministry of Education believes reducing kindergarten waiting times is a priority and is the most important change in new legislation currently being drawn up.

"Preschool education for up to three-year-olds will be daycare. Daycare will then have a curriculum obligation and all this provision of municipal and private childcare will be on a common footing. The existing nursery groups in the municipalities will become daycares under a common name, but will continue to operate on the same principles," said Maila Rajamets, head of the ministry's preschool education department.

This will make the situation easier for municipalities as they will no longer have to hire a teacher with higher education, a childminder will be sufficient.

But requirements will be tighter for private care. They will need to follow a curriculum and only qualified childminders will be able to look after small children. But they are in short supply.

"The question we have with the new law is why the qualification requirements for assistant teachers state that they can have either a childcare qualification or pedagogical competencies, but childminders do not," said Mari Kummer, CEO of the Estonian Daycare Association.

Additional time will be given for the training of childminders, Kummer said, it is not yet known how this will be carried out. Whether the state will increase the number of training places of daycare centers must do it at their own expense.

Another big change is that a child must receive a place within two months of an application being submitted.

This could be challenging for municipalities.

"The vast majority of children are put on the 'kindergarten waiting list' immediately after birth. Some want a place for a 1.5-year-old, others for a two-year-old, a three- or four- or five-year-old, and there is no way of knowing two months in advance whether someone will get a place at a particular nursery in three or four years' time," said Jõelähtme village head Andrus Umboja.

He said this principle is only justified for changes of residence. It should be up to six months for other reasons.

The Ministry of Education hopes that after the bill becomes law, the practice of suing municipalities will end as a child could be offered a place in a private kindergarten or daycare. An income tax refund should also apply to the training costs of private institutions, it said.

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Editor: Barbara Oja, Helen Wright

Source: Aktuaalne kaamera

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