According to legislation adopted in early 2018, new teachers to begin teaching in Tartu and Tallinn as well as support specialists will now also qualify to apply for a nearly €13,000 beginner's allowance available up to a year and a half after graduation with a master's degree. The payment of this new support allegedly hasn't always gone off without a hitch, however.
"Young teachers and support specialists are welcome everywhere, and so we saw no reason anymore to restrict [the support] to only regions outside the city," explained Ministry of Education and Research Deputy Secretary General Mart Laidmets.
"We actually have a big problem with growth; we have two times as many teachers on pension as we do teachers under the age of 30," said Estonian Education Personnel Union (EHL) chairman Reemo Voltri.
According to Voltri, the teacher shortage will not be solved solely by a reduction in the number of schools in the future either. "Then pension-aged teachers will simply finally retire as well, no more local school director coming knocking every August, flowers in hand, asking you to please come give one more lesson," he said.
"If we're saying that a teacher is actually a specialist with a master's degree, teachers' average wages are below average compared to other fields requiring such a high level of education," the union chairman pointed out. "In other words, we're not actually talking about wanting to give teachers an advantage; we want [teachers'] wages to be comparable to other occupations requiring this level of education."
The new beginner's allowance legislation has sown confusion over the past half a year since its adoption as well. According to the EHL's information, a number of new teachers were left without the support this year as a result of conflicting legal interpretations, as various legal provisions included different application deadlines.
"Working in schools, our approach is that if there is confusion about any dates or interpretations, this should be resolved in favour of the student, just as this should be resolved in the teachers' favour right now," Voltri said. "We're not talking about hundreds of teachers here; we don't have that many young teachers. We're talking about maybe around ten or so teachers. If they don't want to be more forthcoming with [these teachers] due to legal rigidiy now, then in my opinion that just demonstrates that there is talk of supporting young teachers, sure, but in this case it's nevertheless nothing more than words."
Laidmets confirmed that all support applications that were received after the deadline would be reviewed. "We will take into account that this is a transition period," he added.
During the past school year, teachers under the age of 30 accounted for less than 10% of educators working in general education schools in Estonia.
Applications for the beginner's support are open to teachers and support specialists who have gotten a job at a school within a year and a half of graduating with a master's degree.
Editor: Aili Vahtla