Eleven long years of school changes

Lillede pere suuremad poisid on 1. septembri puhused riided selga passinud ning vaatavad vanemate ja pisivendadega, milliseid koolitarbeid oleks veel vaja. Vasakult lasteaiapoiss Jako, ema Jaanika, 3. klassi poiss Juss, isa Margo, põhikooli lõpuklassi poiss Kusti ja gümnaasiumi lõpuklassi noormees Ken.

PHOTO: Sander Ilvest

The Lill family in Rapla are sending three boys to school today, the fourth still a kindergarten kid.

With the four lads brought up in their home, the Lills have ridden the Estonian demographic curve up and down. During the 11 years, declining numbers of pupils have followed them like a persistent shadow.

As Ken Lill first went to school back in 2003, the guy this academic year to graduate from Rapla Vesiroos Gymnasium 12th class, close to 200,000 children were getting general education in Estonia. With eleven years, the figure is down to under 140,000.

The day Ken became a school-kid in 2003, 13,000 faced the fate with him. As his younger bro Kusti first darkened the schoolhouse door, in 2006, Estonia’s first graders numbered only 12,000.

«Our two 9th grades are the smallest in the school – just 40 put together,» says Kusti who was born in 1999, the year with a lowest birth rate. The rest of the classes average 50–60, in the Vesiroos School.

As the «next» brother Juss went to school in 2012, the initial mother wage kids had reached student age. The real 1st graders boom has hit this fall – the first mother wage generations are coming on, where over 15,000 children used to be born in a year. As calculated by education ministry, about 15,000 entered 1st grade today. The next year will be more populous still – in the baby boom of 2008, over 16,000 children came into this world.   

As the smallest Lill boy – Jako, now 5 – picks up the school bag in two years, there will already have been a small slide back, but still not under 15,000 in 2016.

When Juss went to school two years back, the Estonian school network was being shrunk full speed, due to shortage of kids. In the «Ken-goes-to-school» year, Estonia had 625 general education schools. Today, 545 are left.

Merger, in a year

Ken and Kusti, the two oldest, will manage to graduate ere the changes hit home in Rapla. In all likelihood, Kusti – should he continue in the hometown Vesiroos Gymnasium – will be its final generation before Rapla will be left with a basic school and a state gymnasium, instead of the two current 12-year institutions. 

The Lill family does not like the perspective – both gymnasiums have nice buildings, both have kids enough and both have their own «personality».

It’s not just the grades, the excellence of the exams results. Like the headmaster says, «a kid needs to be prepared to cope with life», as underlined by the Mother.  

The family praises the teachers. Kusti thinks the best ones ask what the kids think – even about how they could teach them better. This boy, explains the Mother, is talented but tends to be lazy... to which Kusti wholeheartedly nods.

Jaanika Lill is trying hard to recall all the changes over the eleven years her boys have gone to school. Then recalling that in the heat of summer, the class teacher of Juss sent the parents an e-mail on what they will need at school when the fall comes. Thus helped, she’s been able to look for the best buys. In the times of Ken, e-mails were not in the tradition...

The costly clothes and shoes

Every day, the mother – a shop assistant – is checking the stores for best offers on school stuff and the clothes. Also, she participated in the Selver charity campaign, with people provided the opportunity to buy school things for the large families.

The clothes and the footwear are always the greatest drain. Thank God we got boys, says the Mother – girls would heap on more demands. On top of the money given by parents, the boys have earned some over the summer, so partly the clothes – which they prefer to select for themselves – are covered by that. Ken spent the summer mowing lawns with friends in Rapla County, Kusti found engagement in Rapla city summer youth brigade.

Jaanika Lill thinks a school uniform would be cheaper... «But it’s no problem, anyway,» she smiles. «Just T-shirts and jeans.»

Still, the Mother is proud to announce Ken has gotten into the habit of wearing shirts, and a suit for the festive occasions – unlike many a classmate. 

For a big family like this, thankfully the free primary school lunch kicked in just when Ken started to attend; by the time the oldest son got to grade 4, the entire basic school was covered. And now, at half way thru 12th grade – since January 2015 – free lunch will roll into gymnasiums. Just in time for Ken to get his bite.  

Raised requirements

The oldest Lill-boys have also had a taste of two national study programmes. As Ken reached gymnasium, three directions came on offer – so he was able to choose between the «broad» and «narrow» math. Ken went for the broad way.

Jaanika recalls what the boys were expected to know before they ever went to school – Ken in 2003, and Juss in 2012.

«Ken was still honing the capital letters, and we laboured hard at reading – in grade one. Juss skipped the capital letters, and midway through fist grade they got to reading small letter texts – whoever didn’t read before school was having a real hard time,» she knows to compare. «Now, they are even getting to use compasses in second half of 1st grade, or in the 2nd grade – latest.»

Pre-school did exist as early as in the Ken-era, says the Mother. In Rapla – as opposed to Tallinn, where this has become a cash cow for many a school – pre-school is free. In Rapla, pre-school means an hour in a week. The Mother thinks this is basically a chance for the kids to get used to the school house and the class teacher.  

When it comes to celebrating September 1st, the Lill family is in a bit of a fix – this, namely, happens to be the Mother’s birthday. Still, they do pay respects to the day the first one, Ken, went to school. A reason, funnily, being... all of them together, that day, tackled an ostrich egg hauled along from a trip to South-Estonia. 

2014–2015 academic year in numbers

General education schools

•    545, in Estonia

•    Of these, 69 are 1st to 6th grade basic schools, 277 are 1st to 9th basic schools, 168 are gymnasiums with basic schools, 15 are «purely» gymnasiums, and 16 are adults’ gymnasiums

•    9 new schools are opened, 14 have been closed down (some due to rearrangements)

Vocational schools

•    41 for all Estonia

•    Of these, 30 are state vocational schools, 8 are private, and 3 are municipal

Higher education, universities

•    Estonia has 25 institutions providing higher education

•    Of these, 6 are public law universities, 8 national institutions of professional higher education, 8 are private professional higher educational institutions, 1 is a private university, and 2 offer vocational higher education 

Source: ministry of education