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Former minister: Investments need to be aimed at teachers, not buildings

Liina Kersna.
Liina Kersna. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Former Minister of Education Liina Kersna (Reform Party) finds that too little of Estonia's general education funding reaches teachers and too much is invested in concrete.

Talking about the teachers' strike, which started Monday, and differences of opinion inside the government, Kersna said that the latter passed the state budget together, including €31 million for teachers' pay rise.

"But I also think that the additional €10 million that would manage to prevent the strike could have been found," she added.

Asked whether those €10 million could be found in the ministry's budget, as claimed by Kersna's fellow Reform member, Finance Minister Mart Võrklaev, the former education minister said Estonian taxpayers put roughly 6 percent of GDP toward education, which is the best result in Europe.

"At the same time, the salaries of our teachers are among the lowest, compared internationally. If we take a closer look, we see that around 40 percent of the education budget goes toward general education, a little over 20 percent to preschool education and a little under 20 percent to higher education. And looking at the structure of expenses in general education, we are spending half of what other countries do on teachers' wages and twice on investments."

Kersna said that the general education budget has the money needed to hike teachers' salaries in the long run, while the cost structure should be changed.

"In other words, investing less in buildings and more in teachers' wages. Change that structure if only by five percentage points, which would already give us a lot more money for teachers' wages.

Kersna pointed out that €1.3 billion is spent through local governments which play a key role in general and preschool education.

"For example, the principal of the Uulu School has written that if the school received all of the teachers' salary support the central government pays its local counterpart, the salaries of its teachers could be hiked by €350 right away. That is a lot more than what is being demanded with the strike today. But it also means closing schools that only have a few students but must still employ teachers."

Asked whether this would not cause a storm of indignation similar to what is happening with Metsküla School in Lääneranna Municipality, Kersna said that choices need to be made if the goal is to pay teachers a dignified wage.

"Buildings do not teach kids. It takes motivated and professional teachers."

Kersna said once again that she believes the €10 million it would take to end the labor dispute can be found for this year.

I very much hope the money will be found. But who am I to advise Minerva. It is up to the government to decide and take responsibility for. I served as education minister when we had to close schools because of the pandemic. I remember the pain and have read studies describing the effects of not letting students attend school," Liina Kersna remarked.

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Editor: Urmet Kook, Marcus Turovski

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