Though they expected the number of students in general education schools to continue to grow for a few more years, first-grade classes were expected to start shrinking again beginning 2018, Minister of Education Mailis Reps (Center) said, adding that this meant a new debate over the number of schools in the country.
This year more than 147,000 students are going to general education schools in Estonia, a number that is expected to increase to 153,000 by 2021. Still, in the long term the Ministry of Education and Research expected numbers to shrink, ERR’s Aktuaalne kaamera newscast reported on Wednesday.
The number of children entering first grade had already reached its peak, and in no more than four years the number of first graders would drop below 15,000, Reps said.
“Harju County continues to grow, Tartu more or less as well, and there’s a little growth around Tartu as well. The remaining areas are unfortunately shrinking, and shrinking really rather quickly,” she added.
There are currently 530 general education schools in Estonia. Secondary education had been moved away from Varstu, Haljala, Taebla, and Puhja, and in other rural municipalities the trend was similar, with seventh to ninth grades no longer taught in the basic schools in Misso and Kodila. The basic schools in Sõmerpalu and Vatla are closed.
The trend of people moving towards the economic centers of the country continues, affecting local communities in the countryside and continuously marginalizing them in terms of available services, a development the current coalition has promised to address.
Number of schools likely to shrink further
The Administrative Reform Act as set out by the previous Reform Party government and now implemented by the coalition led by the Center Party also affects the development of the educational system. “Looking at the administrative reform, it’s clear that we have very serious debates coming in the next four years how many schools there will be within a single administrative area,” Reps said.
According to Kalle Küttis, responsible for the school network at the ministry, the main trend is that while basic school should be as close to home as possible, the following levels could be closer to local centers.
The situation is complicated by the fact that the teachers are unevenly distributed. While some 43 percent of teachers were already working part-time, some schools are having difficulties finding subject-specific teachers and looking at an actual lack of qualified staff.
Schools are trying to address the issue by changing and shifting workloads, supported by the ministry’s efforts towards higher pay for teachers.
Editor: Dario Cavegn
Source: ERR, Aktuaalne kaamera