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Daycare amendment ten years in the making

Kindergarten sandbox.
Kindergarten sandbox. Source: Pixabay

The Ministry of Education and Research wants to amend the Preschool Education Act to provide that children must get a place in a kindergarten in no more than two months. The Estonian Daycare Association says that the ministry has been promising changes for the last decade.

The amendment in question would move daycares from the administrative area of the Ministry of Social Affairs to that of the Ministry of Education and Research. Changes also include the abolition of creches, meaning that children 18-36 months of age will only be able to attend daycare in the future. At the same time, children will not longer be obligated to move from a daycare to a kindergarten upon turning three and can continue attending daycare until they turn seven.

"The greatest benefit is turning daycares into a part of national preschool education," Mari Kummer, executive manager of the Estonian Daycare Association, told ERR. "Daycares will go from places where you can leave your child to institutions that support their development," she said.

Kummer also said that as local governments will be able to offer parents places in private sector daycares, kindergarten waiting lists should become much shorter. But the executive manager also pointed out that daycares have been waiting for the changes for nearly a decade. "We have been told all along that daycares are about to become educational institutions, while we don't know why it has taken so long."

Marge Hindriks, adviser at the children and families department of the Ministry of Social Affairs, said that the amendment is the responsibility of the Ministry of Education and Research and that the Social Ministry has never been the one to hold back changes.

Maila Rajamets, head of preschool education at the Ministry of Education and Research, could not give a single reason for the delay. For example, the bill landed in the parliament in June 2022 but was rejected due to disagreements over phrasing.

"Target groups could not agree on aspects of the curriculum," Rajamets said, adding that work on the new version started right after and is expected to arrive at a compromise.

Tallinn parent Alice Ääro said how her 18-month-old child could not get a place in nearby kindergarten and has been to two different municipal kindergartens, a private kindergarten and a daycare.

"We quickly realized that the environment and teachers at the kindergarten were negative – did not support the development of the child," Ääro said. "That is when we decided in favor of daycare. It was a lot more expensive but better in every other way," she said.

The mother said that while the municipal kindergarten cost the family €70 per month, this jumped to €500 and €700 in daycare and the private kindergarten. Plus the month's lunch money.

Rajamets pointed to another benefit of the amendment where daycare bills will become tax deductible.

Marge Hindriks said that the bill also prescribes speech therapist services for daycares twice a year.

"It often happens these days that a child's special needs go unnoticed," she said. "This change will help us reach children sooner – we can start supporting them and help them keep up before school starts," Hindriks remarked.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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