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Reform: Education system should be in Estonian beginning in kindergarten

September 1 is the traditional start of the school year in Estonia.
September 1 is the traditional start of the school year in Estonia. Source: (Siim Lõvi/ERR)

Reform Party Tallinn division chairman and likely mayoral candidate Kristen Michal said that the party's platform in Tallinn provides for the entire education system being Estonian-language beginning in kindergarten.

"We want a fundamental change in the education system — the entire education system should be unified and Estonian-language beginning with kindergarten," Michal told ERR. "Thus the Center Party's grounds used for opposing Estonian- and Russian-language people and saying different things to different audiences would disappear as well."

According to Michal, the state and local governments maintain one education system where students learn in Estonian beginning in kindergarten already. "Currently, Estonian-language education in Russian schools only begins at the high school level, where it is possible to learn 60 percent in Estonian and 40 percent in another language," he explained. "With a unified system, the learning of Estonian would begin in kindergarten. President Kersti Kaljulaid, for example, has recommended beginning language study in kindergarten. In this case, the issue of language skills, later problems with language study and different information spaces would disappear."

Michal added that if anyone is interested in studying in a different language, be it English, Russian or Finnish, this can be done using opportunities available outside of a unified education system.

The transition would be gradual, Michal said, and require additional specialists and materials. "Currently, Estonian-language study following the 60/40 principle begins in Russian language schools only in high school, and then the issue arises that switching languages is uncomfortable and complicated," he noted.

"Beginning with kindergarten, we wouldn't have any reason to talk about the language problem anymore," he continued, "or different language audiences in Estonia to whom it is possible to say different things. There would be one taxpayer-paid education system in Estonia where Estonian-language education would begin in kindergarten and it would be possible to study in one's native language on the side. This is already the case today in Russian-language schools beginning at the high school level — the same language study would begin at the kindergarten level.

Michal noted that many Russian-language children attend Estonian kindergarten specifically to learn the Estonian language. "To claim that something would simply be lost is a simplification of the matter," he clarified. "It would be more exact to say that the teaching of the Estonian language according to the same principle as currently applies beginning in high school would begin in kindergartens with a different native language."

Editor: Aili Vahtla

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