Veil of secrecy over the millions granted to Russian schools of Tallinn to learn Estonian

Loora-Elisabet Lomp
, Eesti uudiste päevatoimetaja
Liina Kersna, Jaak Aab and Mihhail Kõlvart.
Liina Kersna, Jaak Aab and Mihhail Kõlvart. Photo: Liina Kersna
  • Allocated money was used to buy things not related to language learning.
  • Resources were distributed to make the teaching of Estonian in schools would be more effective.
  • Despite everything, the mayor of Tallinn considers the project a success.

In June, the Ministry of Education and Research stopped the funding granted to three Russian-language schools, which was allocated as a pilot project for developing the Estonian language in schools. Since the city of Tallinn, which manages the schools, did not submit any report on the pilot project for several years, it is not known how the allocated money was used.

On June 20, the Ministry of Education and Research (HTM) officially informed the Tallinn Board of Education that the ministry is terminating the contract with the three schools. According to the agreement, the three Russian-language schools in Tallinn received 750,000 euros per year for the development of teaching methods in Estonian and also for monitoring. As a result, upper secondary school graduates had to reach the C1 level of the Estonian language skills. However, according to the ministry, the methodologies have not been created and they have not been scientifically monitored either.

On June 16, Minister of Education and Research Liina Kersna (RE) told the Riigikogu that the ministry has dealt with this issue. “We have looked into these contracts and we have also looked very closely at how these contracts have been fulfilled, because there are very serious problems with it. The allocated money has been used to buy things that were not related to learning the Estonian language, and to hire people who are extremely difficult to associate with the subject of teaching Estonian,” said Kersna. She has also twice discussed this issue the Mayor of Tallinn, Mihhail Kõlvart (KE).

“We will terminate this contract. These schools have not received money this year and will not receive it in the future in this privileged way, these three schools. However, our goal is that all schools get the means to teach in Estonian and to teach the Estonian language,” Kersna explained.

What was the money actually used for in the schools?

The city of Tallinn applied for state support in 2017/2018 academic year to carry out a pilot project to improve the learning of the Estonian language and to test flexible language learning opportunities in three schools belonging to the city: Lasnamäe Upper Secondary School, Tallinn Linnamäe Russian Lyceum and the Central Tallinn Russian Upper Secondary School.

HTM and the city of Tallinn have signed an agreement on the use of state budget support every year since that period for the implementation of pilot project activities in the classes participating in the project. According to the HTM, a total of 3.3 million euros have been allocated to the city of Tallinn through contracts from the beginning of the project until now.

“In 2017 the then 7th graders joined the pilot project and the goal was to bring their Estonian language skills to the C1 level by the time of graduation from the upper secondary school. Although the project started in the autumn of 2017, the baseline level of the pupils' language skills was measured only in the spring of 2018,” the HTM announced.

According to the ministry, 306 pupils took part in the testing at that time. 181 pupils or 59 percent achieved at least 75 percent of the target or A2 level. According to the national curriculum, the A2 level must be reached by the end of 6th grade.

“In October 2020, when the pilot project had already lasted for three years, the Education and Youth Board conducted Estonian language tests in the pilot schools for the pupils who had reached the 10th grade in the meantime. A total of 249 pupils took the B2 level test: 48 from Lasnamäe Upper Secondary School, 63 from Central Tallinn Russian Upper Secondary School and 138 from Tallinn Linnamäe Russian Lyceum. 48 percent of all test takers, or 120 out of 249 students, reached the expected learning results, or B2 level.”

According to the HTM, it is important to note that each school received a subsidy of 250 thousand euros for one academic year and only 48 pupils from one school and 63 from the other took part in the testing.

“Purposeful use of state budget funds is a very important term of the contracts for the HTM. However, the reports on the use of support submitted by the city of Tallinn show that not all the expenses incurred were related to the activities of the pilot project. For example, the project budget has been used to pay to teachers whose ties with the pilot classes cannot be determined.”

The ministry further pointed out that learning materials for other age levels had been acquired, which were not related to the improving of the performance of the pilot classes.” Although the city of Tallinn requested funds to carry out a pilot project, the piloting did not actually take place and the monitoring of activities has not been submitted to the HTM.”

“Piloting requires the completion of a study and a report. Tallinn has not provided the HTM with materials proving the implementation of monitoring, and in the absence of monitoring, we do not know whether, which activities and to what extent have improved the quality of language learning and why less than half of the pupils have reached the expected level. Therefore, we cannot see the connections between the activities, the costs and the results.”

The HTM admitted that it is now too late to begin monitoring because almost four years have already passed since the start of the pilot project. The HTM has reached the conclusion that the pilot project does not fulfill its purpose and will give up its further funding. “We are asking the city of Tallinn to return the unused part of the grant for 2021, the amount of which is around 11,000 euros. The HTM will not sign new contracts for the period of 2022 and 2023.”

Kõlvart sees the situation differently

The mayor of Tallinn, Mihhail Kõlvart (KE), said in the program “Otse Postimehest” that in his opinion this project was very successful, because it did what the ministry should have done.

He stated that an upper secondary school graduate must reach C1 language skills level, but added that the Estonian exam system is structured incorrectly, since a graduate can take the B2 language test. “And now three schools took the initiative to create a pilot project and to build up a system which corresponds to real life. They turned to the universities and no one has helped,” described Kõlvart. He added that these three schools had taken the initiative: “Yes, they hired so many teachers and yes, they created their own system. But results are apparent in each of the schools.”

According to Kõlvart, the language skills and language command level had improved, and it could be even higher if someone was able to address these schools. He added that the funding will be terminated but the ministry does not offer any other solution.

“I cannot understand this logic, but what I perceive is that such political moves do not bring solutions, but cause a lot of additional problems to schools, including Estonian schools.”