Using the Estonian language to fish for votes
Estonia's opposition Reform Party has proposed that children only be instructed in Estonian in all the country's schools and kindergartens. At present classes are taught in both Estonian and Russian at primary schools and then only in Estonian at secondary schools. Commentators see the proposal in the context of the campaign for this autumn's local elections - but not all reject the idea.
Children must learn Estonian at an early age
Even if the proposal heats up the campaign it is a relevant topic, Õhtuleht argues:
“The language issue at kindergartens has the potential to become the main topic of the election campaign at least in the capital, judging by the reactions of the opponents. … The language issue has been hanging around ever since the country gained independence. The fact that it is the Reform Party that has brought up this old topic once more is no reason to simply push it aside. We only need look at the difficulties of the transition to Estonian as the language of instruction at secondary schools to understand how important the issue is. Schools in the capital apply for exemptions and suffer from teacher shortages and a lack of appropriate teaching materials - this shows that is isn't enough for children to start learning the official language properly only once they reach secondary school.”
Education issue being exploited in campaign
The proposal is a good idea for the election campaign in October but not such a good idea for children, political scientist Triin Toomesaar writes on the website of the public broadcaster Eesti Rahvusringhääling:
“The goal is to fuel the conflict with the [governing] Centre Party, and that has always been helpful in campaigns: staging a fight for Estonia between the only true Estonians and the rest of the population. But as far as education policy goes the proposal is unjust. Its proponents seem to have no idea about the main recommendations for language instruction, particularly as far as children are concerned. Children are more receptive to anything new, including languages. The sooner you start giving a child bilingual education, the better. ”