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EDU-cation: Be a patriot and teach Russian-Estonian children

One of the hot topics for this school year in Estonia has been the future of Russian language schools. This has been a politically loaded and emotional topic for the past 30 years and various plans to integrate the school network have been implemented with limited success. With the war in Ukraine, the discussion has again intensified.

Johanna Helin—Doctoral candidate in Education Leadership and Policy, OISE, University of Toronto

For children whose mother tongue is Russian, there are three options: go to Estonian language schools where instruction is 100% in Estonian and Russian is learned as a foreign language, go to Russian-language basic school which starts in Russian, but gradually integrates more and more subjects taught in Estonian, or follow the special bilingual language immersion methodology adopted from Canada, which prepares you to continue in Estonian language high schools (gümnaasium). Ideally, all these paths should give the pupils adequate Estonian language knowledge. But the reality is far from ideal.

Currently, some 20,000 students (16% of all basic school graduates) graduate from Russian schools. In 2021, close to 50% of them could not even pass the language knowledge level (B1) needed for citizenship exams, let alone continuing their studies in high schools with 60% of learning taking place in Estonian. One third of those who fail their language exams are in Tallinn, while two thirds are in Ida-Virumaa. And the problem is not only with the Estonian language as a subject. The international PISA studies have pointed out lower scores for students in Russian-langu...

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