The Social Democratic Party is making a unified education system part of its platform for the 2019 general election on 3 March next year. To achieve this, the party is turning towards a school model where native speakers of Estonian as well as Russian would study together under the same roof starting from nursery school.
According to Interior Minister Katri Raik (SDE), such a model would work against splits in society. Ms Raik has extensive experience as the director of both the University of Tartu's Narva College as well as the Estonian Academy of Security Sciences.
Taking for instance students educated in Ida-Viru County as compared to students educated in Viljandi County, this has led to a situation where young Russian speakers are likely to get lower-paid jobs, and that social mobility for them is limited throughout.
According to the Social Democrats' campaign platform, both Estonian and Russian-speaking children would attend common classes and extra-curricular activities, and the school would appreciate both their respective national and cultural identities. However, the transition to such a model would have to take specific local factors into account."
This is necessary, as there are substantive differences between mainly Russian-speaking areas as Narva, for instance, and towns with a large Russian-speaking population, such as Tallinn, Valga and Pärnu.
The current approach of teaching Estonian as a foreign language eg in Russian nursery schools is not sufficient, the party states: "Therefore, in the future there will have to be an Estonian-speaking teacher in each Russian-language group who applies the immersion methodology in their work."
The platform also calls for measures to facilitate the work of mixed Estonian-Russian groups in nursery schools and stresses the need for greater support on the part of the state for the implementation of immersion already at early education stages.
According to Ms Raik, at 77% the support of parents of Russian-speaking children is sufficient to introduce the new model. As the new approach is implemented, it should become possible for all children in the country to attend school in Estonian starting from 7th grade.
Editor: Dario Cavegn