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According to Estonia’s integration programme, the national education system is one of the pillars of integration. Estonian schools are charged with the task of making society’s development goals and the cultural environment familiar to students of all nationalities, broadening people’s understanding of other cultures, and identifying and building on forms and methods of cultural communication between national groups. Schools are also responsible for high-quality Estonian language teaching to students with native languages other than Estonian.
The more teachers there are in schools with Russian as the language of instruction who are capable of teaching their subjects in Estonian effectively, the easier it is for their students. The first classes were taught in specific subjects in Estonian at the upper secondary level in schools with Russian as the language of instruction on 1 September 2007. The curricula of these schools currently feature three or more subjects being taught in Estonian.
Teachers from schools with Russian as the language of instruction require special training in order to be able to teach their subjects in Estonian effectively. Our People, the Integration and Migration Foundation, has contributed greatly to this in association with the Ministry of Education and Research. Irene Käosaar, the director of the General Education Department of the Ministry of Education and Research, has said that there has been a noticeable change in the attitudes of these schools – it is no longer a question of whether or when they will make the transition to teaching in Estonian, but now rather how they will go about it.
The foundation helps teachers answer this question. Through MISA, in-service training is provided for these teachers, individual studies are offered, materials are produced for students and teachers, counselling and advisory services are provided for teachers and more. Preparatory work for language immersion schools and nursery schools is also coordinated via the foundation.
Another objective is to prepare teachers to work in multi-language and multicultural classes and to produce textbooks and teaching materials with an Estonian focus for all school levels. The state also supports ethnic minorities in the promotion of education and culture in their native languages and in the training of teaching staff. Support – financial and otherwise – is granted to national minority Sunday schools operating as part of national culture societies which teach national minority languages, culture and history.