Eesti Elu
Misinformation about Russian schools in Estonia being spread in Europe
Arvamus 15 Apr 2011  Eesti Elu
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Recently a letter sent to high European authorities condemning Estonian policy on Russian education was found to contain not only inaccurate, but also false information. The Russian School Association in Estonia, in a letter sent to the European Council and to the OSCE, accused Estonia of violating human rights in its program of reforming the Russian language school system. The accusations specifically also target certain specific township officials.

The Rakvere city council is accused of passing a motion approving the amalgamation of an Estonian language high school with a Russian language high school even though a similar motion was revoked by the courts. In commenting on the accusation the mayor of Rakvere, Andres Jaadla remarked that the court decision, even though it lacked sufficient elucidation, did not revoke the earlier council motion. He added that Russian students` parents will again bring the new council decision to court.

At Tapa, the Russian language local newspaper, Tapaskije vesti, was accused of delaying the publishing of an issue, so that the Russian sentiments of the high school parent support group would not appear. The editor denied this, claiming the publication date was pushed back one week because editorial materials were not ready and that he had just arrived on the job a day before the publishing deadline. The Delfi news agency carried an article from Russian-speaking support group members that instruction in Estonian is being `unlawfully forced` upon the Russian language high school. The director of the school was given an opportunity for a rebuttal to the Delfi article to explain in the local paper that the school had for years offered Estonian language immersion and that those graduates who had taken advantage of this were able to easily pass state language exams and go on to higher education. The gradual shift to Estonian language education has been a state policy for years, but a local Russian member of the city council has stated that in Tapa that will not happen.

The school in Kunda was ostensibly not taking any more pupils into their Russian language program, according to accusations. But the Russian first grade program there has not existed for years – there aren`t practically any Russian language pupils. The kindergarten and first grade is in Estonian and the one or two Russian speaking children handle the Estonian language without problems and want to continue in this setting, according the mayor of Kunda. The Kunda high school has Russian language instruction in grades six to nine, in which a total of twenty students study.

The letters sent to European authorities insist that education policy should be determined by schools` parent committees rather than state officials. The letters claim the policy that has already been decided and enforced by the ministry of education causes confusion amongst Russian-language parents. What the letter failed to mention was that a gradual transition to Estonian language instruction was launched already in 2000 with a deadline of 2007 and that this was extended to 2011-2012.

It`s interesting to note that the Russian School Association was founded in the fall of 2010, not some ten years ago when it was established that eventually education in Estonia was to be Estonian language based.

In Tallinn, the city government, well supported by Russian speaking voters (who do not need to be citizens to participate in municipal elections) is applying to continue Russian language instruction in nine city high schools (out of a total of 22 Russian language schools). The city government claims that of the 22 Russian language schools, 21 cannot offer 60% of their program in the Estonian language as the law has required. One must bear in mind that some Russian speaking city councillors ran on a platform of keeping Russian language instruction and consequently were well received by the heavily Russian electorate in certain city districts.

It`s obvious that with erroneous facts and inaccuracies, a prolonged campaign against Estonian language dominance in Estonia has not been allowed to die a natural death. Estonian language supporters argue that weak Estonian language skills are serious obstacles to continuing successfully in higher education and gaining satisfying career opportunities. (One cannot imagine proceeding on a rising career path in Quebec with weak French language skills in a French speaking province. Unlike Estonia, the survival of the French language is not an issue.) Perhaps the natural selection process in the society will eventually dictate the outcome of the current stand-off.
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