Teaching of Estonia’s official language must improve, says watchdog

29 Aug 19

Thousands living in Estonia are unable to speak the national language because of a fragmented teaching service and heavy dependence on non-government funds, a watchdog has said.

Of Estonia’s 1.3 million residents, just 68% speak Estonian as their mother tongue, and as of 2017 one in 10 residents of other nationalities aged 15 or over does not speak the language at all. Other languages spoken in the country include Russian, German and Swedish.

A study by Tallinn University and the Centre for Applied Research suggested more than 100,000 adults living in Estonia were not able to speak and write in Estonian at the level necessary for coping with daily life.

But according to the head of Estonia’s National Audit Office, speaking yesterday about the watchdog’s latest report, adult language teaching services are disjointed, being delivered by five separate government ministries with “no clear leader”.

Auditors also found there was no overview of the arrangements, costs or results of the programmes, and disagreements between ministries meant they were not co-ordinated.

Auditor general Janar Holm said he wants to end the “fragmented” current system, and suggested establishing a single ‘Estonian language centre’ that would create courses, methods and teaching aids to support anyone who wants to learn the language, at any level of proficiency.

From 2014 to 2018, about €21.1m was spent on state-financed language training, with €6.6m coming from the government’s budget.

The rest was paid for largely through the Unemployment Insurance Fund, an entity independent from the government, and foreign support – mostly from the EU.

Holm said the reliance on these funds was wrong, because Estonian language ability has “a much broader meaning” than simply coping in the labour market.

He said: “When it comes to this, we should have enough national pride to not let the taxpayers of Germany, France, Italy and other European countries to partly pay for teaching our own state language, especially considering the extreme importance of the Estonian language to the Estonian identity.

“The present situation really wounds my pride as an Estonian.”

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