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Külli Taro: Holding on to Estonia's parallel Russian education system a failure

Külli Taro.
Külli Taro. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

I see no reason to spend taxpayer money on operating Russian-language kindergartens and schools in Estonia. At the very least we should not open a single taxpayer-funded Russian-language kindergarten group starting this fall, Külli Taro finds in Vikerraadio's daily comment.

President of the Riigikogu Lauri Hussar mentioned the transition to teaching in Estonian as Estonia's greatest challenge in his New Year's greetings. Only a fully Estonian-language education system can make sure that Estonian really becomes the language of all of Estonia. Reforming the education language is necessary in light of the constitutional obligation of protecting the Estonian language and culture.

Retaining a Russian-language education system, including kindergartens, has been the greatest single failure of the Republic of Estonia. We have let down young people who have studied in Russian schools while trusting public policy and believing that it would allow them to be successful later in life. Alternatively, we have been raising generations who have no reason to tie themselves to an Estonian-speaking society.

In addition to undermining the nation state, security, social cohesion and well-being, we have also created expenses for ourselves. Whereas the cost is not greatest when it comes to maintaining a bilingual school system but rather addressing its effects. Raising new generations of people who do not speak Estonian will mean paying for the consequences of having a Russian-language system from one year to the next.

Children from Russian-speaking families will need school places one way or another and a bilingual system creates some additional expenses, while what is really costing us is supporting a society with two parallel language environments.

The explanatory memo of the 2024 state budget law tells us that €71.9 million has been earmarked for transition activities alone. Because the school system has not been able to teach Estonian to everyone, we have for years been forced to fund additional language training in schools and for adults. We are also paying for the Estonian studies of educators, offering Estonian classes as part of hobby education or as a labor market measure. It is impossible to get a full picture of how much different ministries are spending on teaching Estonian.

But language training is just one additional expense. The public broadcaster is also paying for a Russian TV channel, radio station and news portal. State and local government agencies must pursue communication efforts in Russian. When offering public services it needs to be kept in mind that many residents cannot understand documentation or communicate in Estonian. There seems to be no end to the work the Language Inspectorate has to do. And even that is not the end of what it all costs.

Whereas it is not solely the fault of the Center Party, even though its recent weakening will have a positive effect on an Estonian-speaking society. But education ministers have come from many different parties over the years and all have tried to court Russian-speaking voters.

And so it has happened that it took the war in Ukraine to understand the dangers of a bilingual society. Language is just one part of the problem, while people sharing similar values goes far beyond it. There has been even less talk, if any, about what the aftermath of a Russian education system will mean in the long run.

If we were to imagine a situation where past choices would have no bearing on how Estonia is managed, I see no reason to support a Russian-speaking kindergarten and school system on the taxpayer's dime. I'm sure I would be told that Russian-speaking residents pay state taxes. But we also have Spanish, French or Hindi-speaking taxpayers. And yet we do not think we should all pay for their possibility to teach their kinds in their mother tongue.

Therefore, for the past 30 years our policy has been to first create a problem for ourselves and then pay to sort out its consequences. First we raise kids and young people who do not speak Estonian and then start teaching them the language and creating a parallel world for them.

We have become increasingly used to solving problems by relying on various benefits. It is also what has caused our fiscal crisis. We should start by not creating problems in the first place and use regulation rather than policy measures to organize society. At the very least, Estonia should not open a single new taxpayer-funded Russian-language kindergarten group from this fall.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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