Russian Students Demand Better Estonian Instruction, Less Politicking

Steve Jones, Estonian Public Broadcasting

The Assembly of Student Councils, a group representing 53 Russian-curriculum schools, released a statement on September 5 urging members of local governments to refrain from sewing white ribbons on their lapels in support of preserving Russian-language education and instead focus on solving the problems in the school system.

This school year, Russian-language upper secondary schools are required to implement changes that will eventually create a 60 percent Estonian-language curriculum, a change set out by the education reform law.

Several schools in Tallinn and Narva have been petitioning to keep a larger share of their instruction in Russian. Their cause has been championed by city officials, who now find themselves at odds with the Ministry of Education.

The assembly, however, said it would make more sense to stop the politicking and work on the problem.

"Our goal is to receive quality education in school, which includes perfect command of the state language so that it would be possible to continue studies at local colleges without any difficulty. And we always encourage our leaders to do everything to make these possibilities universal," said Nikita Lumijõe, a member of the assembly's representative body.

As a counter example to the situation in the larger cities, he pointed to the mainly Russian-speaking town of Sillamäe, where "all parties calmly sat down at the negotiating table and decided that, given the number of high school students in the town, perhaps it would open only one school next year instead of three."

Lumijõe said the main problem facing the schools is the low quality of teaching as evidenced by state exam results. He also pointed to weak Estonian language instruction at the basic school level.

"How prepared the schools are to switch to partial teaching in Estonian directly depends on the local authorities. They are responsible for training teachers, for funding additional programs to help students who want to improve their Estonian, and other matters. Tax money has been paid for this and we want to receive these services, not a white ribbon," Lumijõe said.


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