What the papers say: Forestry and flying squirrels

Estonian newspapers (picture is illustrative).
Estonian newspapers (picture is illustrative). Source: Andrew Whyte/ERR News

A snapshot of the media landscape in Estonia on Wednesday, Sept. 18, brings more discussion of the state of education and medicine in the country, a discussion of how forestry relates to climate change issues, and just what the role of a central bank should be. One long-standing weekly is celebrating its 30th anniversary this weekend, and workmen on Estonia's eastern border had to stop for the day when a flying squirrel put in an appearance.

Inequality gap in education runs risk of widening

Once again education was on the agenda in an opinion piece (all links in Estonian) by Sandra Haugas in daily Eesti Päevaleht, this time focusing on the "stratification" noted in the president's Riigikogu opening speech last week.

Stratification usually refers to the extent to which a student's educational situation and options is influenced by their socioeconomic status, but in Estonia the picture is complicated by the distinction between "rural" and "urban schools", with the latter performing better, according to statistics, the piece says.

Estonia is often thought of as an education success story, with its education system consistently ranking second behind Finland in PISA results among European schools, and the reputation bringing international attention and interest on "how Estonia did it", but the picture is a bit more complex than that, with part of the success due to a traditional Estonian belief in getting a good education, and efforts to support education being less focused and more general, even for those who do not need the extra support.

Elite schools tend to be in a money-goes-to-money situation, according to the piece, with the educational level of the parents also being relevant in a self-perpetuating system, as well as native tongue – in math for example, according to PISA ratings students at Russian-language schools are on average a year behind in this topic than their native Estonian-speaking counterparts and the stress for those who studied in Russian schools in their elementary education having to make the leap to Estonian, as well as the politicization of the issue, later hardly helping.

With no national strategy for distributing elite school places more equitably, including the intense competitiveness within families and stresses placed on their children meaning that some are still going to fall by the wayside.

The state could do better by supporting "weaker" schools rather than augmenting the elite ones even further, with "school of the year" competitions and so forth, but even this is hampered by a lack of clarity on which precisely are the schools that need most help, Haugas argued.

Doctor shortage getting worse not better, especially in rural areas

An editorial in daily Õhtuleht said that the uncertain condition regarding family doctors in Estonia was evident ten years ago, and the situation has gotten worse since then, with many patients having to be referred to locums or substitute doctors.

Many doctors have pointed the finger at the Health Board (Terviseamet), but it is nevertheless the case that some areas of Estonia have been deprived of a stable family doctor for years, notably in Võru County in South Estonia, where longer distances sometimes have to be covered to reach a substitute doctor than in more densely populated regions of the country.

As with teachers, the problem continues to be attracting younger people to the profession, particularly with the lure of higher earnings in Estonia's northern neighbor, Finland – why go and work in an out of the way place in Estonia when you can do the same in Finland for several times as much money?

Ultimately the decision, again as with teachers, is a political one, with choices needed on whether to proved attractive packages to potential family doctors away from the main population centers, or to make working doctors in hospitals a mandatory requirement, the piece argued.

What do central banks actually do?

Writing in online news portal Geenius, economic journalist Erik Aru took a look at what the role of central banks, including Estonia's Eesti Pank, actually do.

By the textbook, this involves regulating the money supply, via interest rates, tweaking the economy accordingly as well as, according to some textbooks, selling bonds, mostly government bonds, in order to tighten the money supply and buying them when injecting into the money supply.

Furthermore, interest rates at the European Central Bank, with the exception of deposits, are now so low, that a central bank will have to do more of this security-buying in order to increase the money supply, Aru argues.

Cutting down more trees not answer to climate change

Forestry in Estonia faces problems of sustainability, not helped by the concept that felling wood is a way to combat climate change, according to an Eesti Ekspress opinion piece by Raul Rosenvald of the Estonian University of Life Sciences in Tartu.

Forestry lobby groups claimed last week that forestry, i.e. using renewable wood to make products, rather than non-renewable materials, was good for the environment and would help to reduce the country's carbon footprint.

However, there are a couple of problems here, according to the piece.

First, Estonia's forests are already being cut down at an unsustainable rate – 12.5 million cubic meters per year whereas the maximum for maintaining sustainability is 9 million cubic meters, the piece says, which means overall forest cover in Estonia could decline from 413 million cubic meters at present, to 354 million in 10 years, and to 311 million by 2050, accompanied by a decline in commercial forest volume – from 14 million to 11.7 million cubic meters by 2050.

Second, unlike Finland where a lot of timber is left in situ, as well as that country having a large pulpwood sector, in Estonia more than half of the wood cut down is burnt – itself of course releasing CO2, whereas only about one percent of timber is used in the more climate friendly construction.

Reforestation would take 50-100 years to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere, far too long to solve the current climate change disaster, the piece argues, but nonetheless, since the more intensive the felling, the more non-renewable sources must be replaced by wood, setting up an ever-decreasing circle which Estonia's capacity cannot sustain.

First of all, better analysis is needed of the use and output of Estonia's timber industry, and second, cutting down trees should be reduced and not increased.

Siberian flying squirrel halts work on Narva River

Speaking of tree-felling, work on a state forest (RMK) site in Ida-Viru County had to be stopped when a flying squirrel was spotted on the banks of the Narva river, according to agricultural weekly Maaleht.

Estonia is almost the westernmost limit of the Siberian flying squirrel's range, even then only confined to easternmost two counties of Lääne and Ida Viru Counties, though the species is present in much of Finland.

On the other hand, the squirrel spotted by RMK workers is the easternmost it can get in Estonia (as Russia is on the other side of the river).

By law, work had to stop, and recommenced the next day when the Environmental Agency (Keskonnaagentuur) had been informed.

Eesti Ekspress hits 30

Finally, investigative weekly Eesti Ekspress is celebrating its 30th anniversary on Sunday, which it bills as 30 years of free speech. Founded during the era of Glasnost and Perestroika, along with many other Estonian media outlets past and present, all striving to take advantage of the loosening political climate in the years leading up to Estonian independence, Eesti Ekspress says it gets more paying subscribers today than ever before.

This should not be taken to mean it does not have its knockers, however, not least from among the current coalition. Interior minister and, Erik Moora says in the piece, self-proclaimed deputy prime minister, Mart Helme, said on a radio broadcast Sunday that the paper "is actually doing very badly, since it has chosen to send out such a one-sided and distorted picture of what is happening in Estonia and the world".

Eesti Ekspress for its part notes that its editorial board contains members from across the spectrum of political worldviews, from ultra-conservatives who would make EKRE boosters look like mice, to the most ultra-liberal globalists, all in the one room, the paper claims.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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