Estonia: Action plan approved for transition to Estonian-language education
The government has approved a detailed action plan prepared by the Ministry of Education and Research to transition to Estonian-language education in Russian-language kindergartens and schools. The transition to Estonian as a language of instruction will start in preschools and in the first and fourth grades in 2024. The transition will be completed by the beginning of the 2029/2030 academic year.
As a legacy of the Soviet era, in the academic year 2021/22, Estonia had 73 general education schools (15% of schools) where the language of instruction was either Russian or Estonian/Russian. Over 21,000 students conducted their studies in Russian (13.5% of students). Both PISA tests and basic school final exams and upper secondary state exams indicate that students of Russian-medium schools achieve lower scores compared to their Estonian peers. The level of proficiency in Estonian as a second language among graduates is closely linked to the proportion of teachers meeting the state language requirements.
Despite years of state support for teaching Estonian as a second language (such as creating study materials and training teachers), the volume of these activities have not been sufficient to ensure that graduates of Russian-medium schools would have sufficient proficiency in Estonian and equal opportunities to continue their education in general upper secondary, vocational, or higher education in Estonian.
In February 2022, the Estonian-language Education Action Plan was published. It is based on the Education Strategy 2021–2035 and the Estonian Language Development Plan 2021–2035 and describes the necessary additional activities for ensuring high-quality education in Estonian language to all Estonian students from pre-school to higher education.
Transition to Estonian-language education directly affects 31,571 children/students and 2,245 teachers who do not meet the language requirements. These numbers do not include children/students who participate in language immersion groups and classes or teachers who comply with the language requirements.
- According to the transition plan, the necessary amendments to the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act and other legislative acts will be adopted. 41 million euros have been allocated in the 2023 state budget for the preparations for and funding of the transition. In the next four years, the required amount for supporting the transition to Estonian-medium education is approximately 300 million euros.
- The existence and motivation of expert teachers and school management are key factors to a successful transition. To alleviate the lack of teachers who are proficient in Estonian, the volume of initial and in-service teacher training is increased and new in-service training courses developed to improve Estonian language skills of non-Estonian teachers, for teachers of Estonian as a second language, for teaching in a multilingual and multicultural classroom, and for supporting content and language integrated learning.
- Funding is provided to ensure the next generation of teachers is offered a set of motivational packages (targeted scholarships, increased beginner’s allowance, and compensation of residence expenses). In addition, contemporary study resources (including digital) and assessment tools are being developed for teaching Estonian and other languages as well as for instruction in Estonian.
- Increased volume of teaching various subjects in Estonian in Russian-medium schools will be accompanied by more funding. Support for additional courses and adaptation programmes for newly arrived immigrants has been extented, while additional Estonian lessons are offered to support transitioning to upper secondary and vocational schools, etc.
- A lot of attention is paid to fostering the next generation of school heads, while at the same time at increasing the competency and motivation of the current school heads.
Source: Eurydice Unit Estonia More information: https://www.hm.ee/en/news/government-has-approved-activities-ensure-quick-transition-estonian-language-education; https://eurydice.eacea.ec.europa.eu/national-education-systems/estonia/national-reforms-school-education