The initial state gymnasiums are having to prove they can offer a more multifaceted academic education than the small country ones.
Pupils prefer homeplace gymnasiums
Despite Viljandi about to have its third state gymnasium year, the countryside-competitors in the surrounding county have not run out of students – neither have any of the small gymnasiums decided to be closed.
According to Tarvastu Gymnasium headteacher Anne Põldsaar, their upper secondary part will be happily alive for two more years – from the basic school graduates a 10th grade can be formed with 20 pupils in it.
As of last week-end, the Tarvastu Gymnasium 10th grade list featured 19 students. Of these, several top doers successfully did their tests in Tartu and Nõo – yet opting for the homeplace schoolhouse.
Ms Põldsaar thinks 20 pupils are quite enough to keep a class going. «But when it does drop under ten, it no longer makes sense to struggle on,» thinks the headteacher.
«Next year, we will still be able to put the 10th grade together, but from then on we are going to have a basic school,» said Ms Põldsaar, facing the facts. Statistics show most counties still have kids enough, at the final stage of basic schools for the upper secondary levels to continue – but in times to come in the smaller counties the numbers will drop by a hundred or so.
That will mean that the small gymnasiums’ «catch» for opening new at least 20-member 10th grades will dwindle. Even the kid-rich years brought along by the mother-salary have not manage to increase amounts of children in most of the counties.
All of the above does not concern Harju and Tartu Counties, of course – in these, the trend is rather towards opening extra 1st grade classes and, in six-seven years’ time, added gymnasium classes will be created as well.
Like Tarvastu Commune, Suure-Jaani Commune in Viljandi-County is keeping its gymnasium doors open – while tackling the schools-network from the opposite end. Starting this year, the upper secondary part is severed from the basic schools, while Suure-Jaani has merged four basic village schools into one.
«We are aiming at the development of a strong basic school,» said Suure-Jaani «united school» headmaster Epp Välba. This academic year, all the four schools still do have nine grades, but in the years to come three of the schools will feature four of six grades – with Suure-Jaani alone having the complete basic school left. This year, Suure-Jaani Gymnasium looks to only get 13 students in its 10th grade; the upper secondary school so far featuring 60 students will be left with fewer than fifty. «The situation is difficult, the changes are hard emotionally; even so, gymnasium ought to be preparation for university, not a lengthening of one’s childhood. A glance at the latest Praxis [the think-tank – edit] analysis, there’s nothing doing with not enough kids for everyone,» admitted Ms Välba.
As long as the small gymnasiums keep going, the new state gymnasiums will remain partially empty – having been built by education ministry with such spare capacity as to provide the smaller counties with a single upper secondary school large enough for all academically minded youth in the county.
Jõgeva State Gymnasium might contain 300 students; at the moment, they have 200. While this spring saw close to 350 kids graduate from basic school in Jõgeva County, in five years the figure will shrink by almost a hundred. In addition to the state gymnasium, Jõgeva County has fore others, with Mustvee boasting a whopping two – with Estonian and Russian as languages of study.
«It would be logical for a county of the Jõgeva-size to continue with just one gymnasium,» said Alo Savi, headmaster of the state gymnasium. He said the small state gymnasium is intending to prove its goodness so that, in the future, basic school graduates all over the county would choose it in the place of the gymnasium nearer to home – and closer by two dozen kilometres perhaps. According to Mr Savi, a satisfaction poll taken amongst the students this spring showed the kids were okay with the new school. «The more serious conclusions regarding our level may be drawn in two years as we have the first graduates coming up,» said Mr Savi.
In Viljandi, the school has been built for 600 students, with fewer than 500 currently enrolled. A hundred or so vacancies are also reported by Lääne County joint gymnasium with a bit over 260 students to show this academic year.
According to Viljandi State Gymnasium headmaster Ülle Luisk, their school – now to enter its third year – will probably stay below 600-student-level even as the single gymnasium of the county. She thinks they are destined to have about 550 kids. Even with the overall shrinkage of students available, and gymnasiums abounding in the land, the state gymnasiums still have the option to choose – to receive all applicants or to reject some.
In one accord, headmasters of Jõgeva, Viljandi and Haapsalu state gymnasiums say they are not admitting students with poor grades, and some have already been said «no». «This is public knowledge now: you don’t come here just to joke around,» said Ms Luisk.
In 2015, state gymnasiums are starting in Jõhvi, Tartu, Pärnu and Võru, in 2016 Põlva, Valga and Kärdla will have these as well. Also, the ministry has entered into state-gymnasium-agreements with Viimsi and Kohtla-Järve.
State gymnasiums to feature waiting lines
According to education and research ministry schools network department deputy head Ruth Opmann, a state gymnasium need not be located at the county centre. Even so, it must be well accessible for students.
The ministry has reached agreements regarding state gymnasiums with the majority of counties. Only Rakvere, Rapla and Saaremaa [the island-county – edit] have failed to hop aboard.
Rakvere and Saaremaa are currently of the opinion, rather, that they will manage on their own; with Rapla, however, we will be entering the initial agreement this week. In Harju County, nearly all the communes circling Tallinn have expressed a desire to have a state gymnasium. This is a matter requiring an analysis, how the network ought to be – and the choices are also related to the school network in Tallinn. Should we go by every application, we would have a state gymnasium after every ten kilometres.
The ministry’s offer is that popular?!
Exactly. Even in Lääne-Viru County, where Rakvere has not applied, several local governments stand ready to talk. A state gymnasium needs not be located in the county centre, but it must be logistically accessible for the students in the county.