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Tallinn will pay teachers salaries for first three days of strike

Next week it will be known which Tallinn schools will participate in the teachers' strike starting on January 22. Kaarel Rundu, head of the Tallinn Education Department, said the council will pay workers for the first three days.

The number of general schools participating will be known around January 15-16 and kindergartens and vocational education institutions by January 18, Rundu told ERR on Tuesday. He would not speculate on the final number.

Educators not striking can continue to teach, including via distance (online) or hybrid (online and in-person) learning.

"We sent a letter to school principals that in the first grade of the elementary school, activities must be guaranteed on-site, that is, education must be organized on-site for the first to third grade, but distance learning can be implemented in the second, third and high school grades if desired," said Rundu.

Schools cannot be completely closed. "All schools in Tallinn are open and catering and school health services must be provided. These things must be available," said Rundu.

He said school staff will still be on hand and engaged in safeguarding children's well-being and order.

"During the warning strike, parents were also asked to help, both in kindergartens and schools. I think it's organized a little bit differently in each school, but the most important thing is to make sure that children's safety is supervised on the ground for the first to third grade. In the case of distance learning, children can also learn from home," he explained.

As far as catering is concerned, schools will decide if they provide hot meals on-site or offer food packages to take home. 

"It is clear that children in first to third grades must be able to eat locally," Rundu stressed. 

Workers will be paid for three days

Tallinn has confirmed striking staff will be paid their full wages for three days.

"For the three days from January 24-26, the city will also pay teachers and support specialists from vocational schools and kindergartens taking part in the support strike," said Rundu.

However, the strike is open-ended and may last significantly longer than three days.

"However, we are all hoping that this strike will not happen, that it can be prevented in advance, and that agreements can be found. But from there it is also clear that the city will only be able to maintain pay for a certain period, not indefinitely," Rundu said.

Rundu refused to say exactly how long the city is willing to pay the strikers. "This is not a question I would like to speculate on at this time," he said.

Extra tutoring not required

The Board of Education will not ask schools to provide catch-up lessons for students.

"No, we cannot insist on that. Our starting point is that the school management has thought through how, in the event of a work stoppage, which is what this strike is, to ensure that teachers who do not strike are guaranteed working arrangements. And that arrangements are made so that teachers who are not on strike can continue to work and educate their children," said Rundu.

"On the other hand, we can't be like YouTube and put teaching on double speed for a certain period. However, in the long term, if we are talking about having to achieve certain learning objectives by the end of a school year, there is room for maneuver.  By the end of either third, sixth, or ninth grade, teachers can follow up on certain topics or take them on more intensively. Or they can go into it a little less in-depth, but it cannot be a requirement that everything has to be taught now. After all, the whole point of this strike is to draw attention to the sustainability of education and of educators," the official said.

Looking at the impact of the strike on state exam results, Rundu said the big picture has to be taken into account.

"It seems to me that the truth is somewhere between the two. Primary and secondary school leaving exams take nine years or nine plus three years to prepare for. On the one hand, we cannot talk about two weeks, or a week, or three days turning everything on its head," he told ERR. 

"On the other hand, we know that strikes certainly have a psychological effect in terms of motivation. From the point of view of the students, every hour with their teacher is counted in order to acquire the knowledge they need for the national exams. In this sense, the strike has an impact, but it is important to look at the big picture," Rundu argued.

The strike on January 22 is organized by Estonia's biggest education union Estonian Education Personnel Union (Eesti Haridustöötajate Liit). Teachers are demanding a minimum wage for teachers in general education schools be set at 1,950 euros per month. Negotiations with the government failed last year.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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