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Report: Teachers brave cold weather to demand government keeps promises

Teachers protesting on Toompea Hill in Tallinn on day one of Estonia's nationwide teachers' strike on Monday. January 22, 2024.
Teachers protesting on Toompea Hill in Tallinn on day one of Estonia's nationwide teachers' strike on Monday. January 22, 2024.

Hundreds of people gathered in front of the Riigikogu on Monday to protest against the cancellation of teachers' pay raises. Educators hope the rally and open-ended strike, which starts today, will make the government stick to its pre-election promises.

ERR spoke to protestors at the demonstration at Toompea in Tallinn outside the Riigikogu as temperatures hovered around 0 degrees Celsius. They cited workloads, parents, and mental health as some of the worries they face.

A Maardu school teacher told ERR 40 of their school's approximately 100 educators will take part in the strike.

The majority of teachers decided not to strike as new Estonian language requirements will force many of them to leave their jobs in the near future.

An English teacher at a school in Õismäe, who worked as a teacher for 18 years, said their high workload has led to them taking anti-depressants.

"One in three of the teachers I know use antidepressants," they added.

"I have 26 contact hours a week. Each contact lesson is about half an hour of preparation and if there have been any tests in the lesson, it takes another half an hour or so to mark them," the teacher, who is in their 40s, said.

"If the strike does not meet teachers' demands, I certainly will not be teaching until retirement. I love the job, but the workload and the low pay burn me out," they said.

Demonstration in support of striking teachers on Toompea, Tallinn, January 22, 2024. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

A history and society teacher at a private school in Tallinn told ERR the strike may be useful. While private schools are not affected by the government's salary freeze, the teacher, who has been in the profession for three years, said it is important to show solidarity with colleagues.

They said the main concern is teachers' workloads.

"In the first year, all the free time during the week was spent preparing lessons and correcting work. Over time, things have improved and it is now possible to also have hobbies during the working week," said the private school teacher.

They said artificial intelligence (AI) is one way to cut down on the burden, for example, when preparing tests.

"If the government won't help teachers, then AI will," the teacher said.  

Two educators from Harju County pointed out that in addition to unfulfilled government promises, parents also make life difficult for teachers.

"Unfortunately, it has become the norm for teachers to receive angry calls from parents when their child has recieved a bad mark at school. No one asks the child if he or she studied enough," one said.

Five teachers from Järveküla School in Rae Municipality said they hoped the strike and protest made ministers change their minds.

Students Robin and Mattias joined the protest outside the Riigikogu on day one of Estonia's nationwide teachers' strike on Monday. January 22, 2024. Autor/allikas: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Two 12th grade Tallinn Art High School students – Robin and Mattias – also came to support the teachers. 

The boys said their school will join the strike for three days and students understand teachers' concerns. They have been set some independent work to do during this time.

The coalition will meet on Monday at its usual meeting and once again discuss teachers' salaries.

Minister of Education Kristina Kallas will also meet with representatives of the Estonian Educational Personnel Union ( EHL) which is organizing the strike. The association is Estonia's biggest teaching union.

On Wednesday, teachers in Tartu will also hold a protest.

The EHL is calling for general education school teachers to be paid a minimum salary of €1,950 per month.

Kristina Kallas at the teachers protest on Toompea Hill in Tallinn on day one of Estonia's nationwide teachers' strike on Monday. January 22, 2024. Autor/allikas: Siim Lõvi /ERR

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Editor: Kaur Rasmus Tammelaan, Helen Wright

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