No clear education plan laid down

Henry-Laur Allik
The Reform Party and Center Party decided to gradually move toward a universal Estonian school system.
The Reform Party and Center Party decided to gradually move toward a universal Estonian school system. Photo: Sander Ilvest

The Reform Party and Center Party decided to gradually move toward a universal Estonian school system during the fifth day of coalition talks. The parties did not agree on a timeline or any concrete steps and simply said an activity plan would be put together and funding allocated in the future.

Coalition talks concentrated on digital topics and education on Monday. The latter makes for one of the most sensitive topics for the incoming coalition as the Reform Party has long sought the creation of a universal Estonian education system starting on the kindergarten level, made it its election promise and even entered a corresponding bill into Riigikogu proceedings. The Center Party has envisioned a different solution, mainly considering potential indignation a common school system could cause among Russian voters.

Plan to be introduced by March

The parties decided to put together an Estonian-language education activity plan in the future and allocate additional funds for teaching staff and study materials. Reform chair Kaja Kallas said that the parties have consensus that Estonia needs a universal education system.

“We will start with kindergartens as the study process in easiest to carry out in Estonian there. We will move on from there gradually, while keeping the community in the loop every step of the way,” Kallas said in terms of the future activity plan, adding that the aim is to get started as soon as possible.

Items that make up the activity plan were not agreed on at this time. Therefore, we do not know how and when Russian schools will be switched to Estonian and ultimately cease to exist. Kallas said that the coalition will try to complete the activity plan by the time of state budget strategy deliberations in March.

Asked what kind of a message a plan for a unified school system would send Center’s Russian voters, head of the party’s negotiating team Mailis Reps said the party’s messages are the same for all their voters. Reps added that Center wants to ensure a high-quality education system in which moving to the next level would be a possibility for everyone.

United Russia agreement to remain

Reps said that Russian schools will not be closed. “Based on the agreement today, we will be creating additional opportunities and strengthening Estonian-language studies on the elementary education level. Mass school closures weren’t even discussed today,” Reps clarified.

The parties agreed on national security values on Saturday, promising to stand for the rule of law, freedom, democracy and human rights.

The Center Party will not be annulling its 2004 cooperation agreement with Russia’s ruling United Russia party following the arrest of Alexey Navalny on Sunday.

Mailis Reps, who signed the document for Center in 2004, said that times were different then and Russia-relations have cooled since then.

Reps emphasized that party chairman Jüri Ratas has publicly condemned Navalny’s detention. “As concerns the agreement, we have said on numerous occasions that it is not relevant, it has not been amended and it has been all but forgotten in terms of its contents.”

Kaja Kallas said that Center has not placed national security in jeopardy because of the agreement and that Reform is not demanding its nullification.