Riigikogu discusses transition to Estonian-language teaching at all levels

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At the initiative of a group of Pro Patria Party MPs, the Riigikogu on Thursday discussed a transition to Estonian-language teaching in Estonia’s Russian-language schools and kindergartens as a matter of significant national importance.

According to rapporteurs, the transition is possible but would take time, spokespeople for the Riigikogu said.

Viktoria Ladõnskaja-Kubits, a member of the Pro Patria parliamentary group, said that while it’s clear that Estonia is moving towards a united Estonian-language system of education, it is important to avoid confrontation. The MP said that Estonian- and Russian-speakers alike wish to provide their children with a good education, but fear about the preservation of their native language.

“Russians in Estonia must be given a feeling of confidence that even in Estonian school the child will not lose their identity, and will not become alienated from their mother and father and their ancestral roots,” she said.

As the current system is already suffering from a shortage of teachers, the education system needs to be provided with additional teachers, Ladõnskaja-Kubits said. “And the main thing — Estonians must be given the feeling of confidence that the Estonian language will be preserved through the ages,” she added.

Hannes Mets, director of the Ida-Viru County Vocational Education Centre, said that of the 2,350 students studying at the centre, 207 are studying in Estonian and the rest in Russian. Of the 180 teachers, 140 teach their classes in Russian and the rest can teach in both languages. According to Mets, there is a major shortage of teachers of specialist skills able to teach in two languages, and in order to have such teachers available in the future, they must be trained now already.

For the situation to change, young people taking up studies should be able to understand Estonian when they start their studies and be motivated to study in Estonian. Besides, the necessity of the Estonian language in Ida-Viru County should grow. This, according to Mets, will take 10-20 years.

Mart Rannut, linguist and associate professor at the Narva College of the University of Tartu, described the transition to teaching in Estonian as realistic and something that the Estonian state will be able to manage. He said that a change is needed in basic schools, and emphasis must also be put on kindergartens.

“Thus far, these things have been happening vice versa,” Rannut noted. As the fastest option, he recommended to transition to teaching in the Estonian language simultaneously at all levels of school as well as in kindergartens, but added that a preparatory year would be necessary. Ida-Viru County should also b considered separately, aas an artificial language environment would have to be created there first. The transition to Estonian-language education can be solved to the extent of 90% at once, he added.

MPs to take the floor during the discussion included Aadu Must and Oudekki Loone of the Centre Party group, Priit Sibul and Sven Sester of the Pro Patria group, Jürgen Ligi and Maris Lauri of the Reform Party group, Jevgeni Ossinovski of the Social Democratic Party group, and Krista Aru of the Free Party group.

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