Education minister: Kohtla-Järve upper secondary to be bilingual next year

Minister of Education Mailis Reps (Centre).
Minister of Education Mailis Reps (Centre). Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Education minister Mailis Reps (Centre) has said that the Kohtla-Järve state upper secondary school (Gümnaasium) will not be ready for 100% Estonian-language learning by the next academic year on 1 September, and will remain as a bilingual school for that year.

Language in education is an issue of contention in the run up to the March general election. Some parties, such as Isamaa and Reform, champion an Estonian-only education system whereas others, including Centre, do not.

Kohtla-Järve is in Ida Viru County, which has a large Russian-speaking population. It is in such areas where education language policy is most hotly debated.

The minister said that the particular school in question would not be ready for education solely in Estonian by 1 September.

"This does not mean backing down on the more long-term goal of reaching a fully Estonian-language upper secondary school system, but pushing this through based on slogans alone at any cost is not responsible,'' Ms Reps said, according to spokespersons.

Whole community must be ready

''In the inception of a school, the readiness of all members of the community must be taken into account," Reps was quoted as saying.

"I can see that there is a readiness for Estonian-only education at the Kohtla-Järve school for those who desire it. But we certainly must also retain the option for a 60/40 language split for those who are not ready for fully Estonian-language learning''.

''The discussion on Kohtla-Järve State upper secondary school has, regrettably, shifted solely to the issue of the language of learning, while the quality of education as whole, which nevertheless must be of the utmost importance in the establishment of a state upper secondary school working on the basis of a nationwide quality agreement, has been overlooked," she continued.

"Let me emphasise once again that it will certainly be possible to get quality Estonian-language high school education at the state upper secondary school established, and the school will undoubtedly emerge as a bearer of Estonian culture for the whole region. Furthermore, the school will offer a contemporary learning environment, diverse learning opportunities and, of course, synergy conducive to attaining educational goals. In addition, young people with different first languages learning under one roof will definitely make its contribution to integration," the minister added.

Ms Reps said that in order to strengthen Estonian-language high school education and learning Estonian, resolute steps have to be taken, starting from preschool education.

As an example of the latter, she mentioned a program involving a teacher using Estonian in each Russian-language  kindergarten group.

All-Estonian instruction will begin for those students of Kohtla-Järve's state upper secondary school entering 10th grade this year, it was previously reported. Disagreements over language issues led to the resignation of director Irina Putkonen in January. Those students moving on from 10th to 11th as well as 11th to 12th grade will continue receiving instruction in Russian as per the expiring curriculum, it is reported.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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