All opposition parties behind Estonian from kindergarten

Michal in his interview with Aktuaalne Kaamera, May 5, 2017.
Michal in his interview with Aktuaalne Kaamera, May 5, 2017. Source: (ERR)

The Free Party as well as EKRE expressed their support on Thursday of the Reform Party’s call to extend the requirement of Estonian-language instruction to kindergarten level. With the change, Estonian would be taught and practiced across subjects at all levels of the education system.

Chairman of the Reform Party’s Tallinn section, Kristen Michal, said on Wednesday that his party’s platform for the upcoming local elections would include a call for Estonian-language instruction to start at the kindergarten level. Michal explained in ERR’s Aktuaalne Kaamera newscast on Thursday evening that though right now this was only an idea, the party’s proposal would be similar to how Estonian is taught and practised at the secondary school level, namely with a share of Estonian-language instruction of at least 60 percent.

According to Michal, the Reform Party’s aim is to make most of kindergarten time Estonian, and primary school instruction already entirely in Estonian. “The pressure that comes up in secondary school when [Russian-speaking students] change to Estonian-language instruction would not be an issue,” Michal said.

The current practice is to teach Estonian in Russian-language kindergartens and schools, and to introduce Estonian-language instruction across a variety of subjects only in secondary school.

“Today we’re talking about an idea that would be a reality perhaps for children that aren’t born yet,” Michal said, adding that a change to instruction entirely in Estonian couldn’t happen overnight.

“Plenty of Russian parents place their children in Estonian-language kindergartens so that they learn the language and can keep up,” Michal said. In that sense, the change would be in the interest of a lot of Russian voters as well.

Michal rejected the view that this was a political move to play one ethnic group against the other and score with ethnically Estonian voters. “This isn’t raging nationalism, if you need to label it, but rather giving equal opportunities to succeed to everyone in Estonia,” he said.

Ligi: Russian-language instruction marginalizes

Former minister of education Jürgen Ligi finds that Russian-language schools contribute to marginalization in society based on language, and says that he has played with the thought for a long time.

Ligi pointed out in a comment published on social media that there was a divide between Estonia’s two main ethnic groups, different information spaces, different networks, and also differences in social status and in terms of educational success. “The Russian school marginalizes, loses students, keeps things from changing, and leads to worse results in tests,” Ligi added.

Free Party and EKRE support the proposal

Both the Free Party and the Estonian Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) have expressed support. EKRE’s candidate for mayor of Tallinn, Martin Helme, said that the step was years overdue. “Kindergartens are the right place in any case and should move on to completely Estonian-language instruction as soon as possible,” Helme said.

Helme called the current state and direction of Tallinn’s schools “mass Russification” and confirmed that it was an important issue for his party in the upcoming elections.

Chairman of the Free Party, Artur Talvik, said that their point of view matched that of the Reform Party.

“The statement is positive in the sense that it goes along with our own,” Talvik said, adding that the Free Party had called for more Estonian in kindergartens of other languages already at the beginning of the year.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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