Reps wants partially Estonian-speaking kindergartens

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Photo: Urmas Luik / Pärnu Postimees

Minister of Education and Research Mailis Reps (Center) unveiled a plan yesterday, according to which all Russian-speaking kindergartens would in the future have a teacher who speaks Estonian to the children.

Reps, who introduced the new preschool education act preparations and analysis, said that the kindergarten age is the best time for language studies and improving the Estonian proficiency of children from non-Estonian-speaking families.

“We plan to specify the curriculum and create additional Estonian teachers’ positions with nurseries, one for every Russian-speaking class. It is important for the children to be prepared to go to Estonian schools if they want to,” the minister said.

Around half of children from Russian-speaking families attend language immersion or fully Estonian kindergartens today. 82 percent of children who attend Russian nurseries go on to Russian basic schools, while the percentage is 52 for those who have participated in language immersion.

While support for Estonian-language studies starting in preschool is considerable among both Estonian and Russian communities, the biggest obstacle so far has been shortage of teachers with a good command of the official language in Russian and language immersion kindergartens.

The plan would introduce new Estonian teacher positions in 2019-2022. The goal is to give every Russian class an Estonian teacher who would help the children achieve at least the A1 level of proficiency by graduation.

Reps said the initiative merited support at state budget strategy talks. The minister added there is a million euros for the project in next year’s budget.

Another planned change is to make preschool education mandatory in the future. Children would also get to attend kindergarten for 20 hours a week free of charge, even though Reps said the €14 million this would require has not been included in the budget strategy. The minister said they are also considering free preschool education in the future.

Reps said that parents who want to teach their children at home would retain that possibility. Roughly 10 percent of children do not currently attend kindergarten before school.

“Every child has an equal right to education, and it is the state’s job to make sure it materializes. We believe too many are left out. Every child is important for Estonia,” Reps said.

Homeschooled children would have to visit a neighboring kindergarten for student evaluation at least once a year in order to ensure preparedness for attending school.

The new preschool act is planned to take effect during the next composition of the Riigikogu on September 1, 2020. Consultations between ministries and target groups will start soon and should be concluded by August.