Transition to Estonian-language education in Tartu

The city of Tartu aims to transit all educational institutions in Tartu, including kindergartens and general education schools, to Estonian-language education by 2025. This means that all municipal schools and kindergartens will be gradually taken to full Estonian-language study (except for students with special educational needs) within four years. This report provides an overview of the survey, which is part of a more extensive study. The survey aimed to determine the attitudes of pupils’ parents in Russian schools and kindergartens in Tartu towards the transition to Estonian-medium education, including their expectations and fears.

The survey revealed that approximately 96% of parents are aware of the Tartu city government’s decision to switch to Estonian-language education by 2025. Most of the time, they heard about the decision either from the (social) media, the management of the educational institution or its staff. In general, parents are not happy with the decision, creating a lot of uncertainty among parents. Parents of Estonian and Russian citizenship feel more insecure than parents of Ukrainian citizenship.

Positive factors associated with the transition to Estonian education are considered to be increased opportunities for children in further education and better opportunities in the labour market. Parents’ biggest concern about the transition to Estonian-language education is the increased learning burden for children at school and in kindergarten. There is a fear that children’s academic performance will decline and that they will find it more difficult to master certain subjects, especially STEM subjects. In addition, parents are concerned that learning in a language other than their mother tongue will cause additional stress and psychological strain on their children, leaving them with less time for recreational activities and less motivation to attend school and study.

To make the transition smoother, parents suggested more free Estonian lessons to prepare the child for learning in Estonian. They also wanted to increase the variety of extracurricular activities, including interactive extracurricular activities where children could interact in Estonian. To maintain the overall level of education, parents considered it essential to have qualified teachers who could also speak Russian if necessary. They also mentioned the growing need for teaching materials tailored to children’s individual needs and abilities.

Parents with Ukrainian citizenship are the most positive about the transition to Estonian-language learning. Parents of children attending kindergarten are also more optimistic about the transition to Estonian-language education than parents of children attending school.