Russian-speaking grade school students participating in forums in five Estonian cities said more conversational practice must be included in their studies for speakers of Estonian as a second language.
"It's above all students who previously lacked any experience learning in Estonian who have difficulties in upper secondary school, where studies take place as of this year mainly in Estonian," said Nadezhda Savtshuk, member of the Assembly of Student Governments. "The predominant majority of participants in our forums found that the transition should be started as early as possible - even starting in the first grade, with new subjects introduced one by one gradually rather than all at once in the 10th grade."
She said the situation varies from one region to the next. In Tartu, the Russian schoolchildren extolled the language immersion to a senior Education Ministry official, but their peers in northeastern Estonia were concerned that grammatical rules were being drummed into them for years. There was very little practical interaction that would help reinforce the language.
"Students in northeastern Estonia felt that art education, music, physical education or humanitarian studies could be taught in Estonian at basic school," said Savtshuk, adding that opportunities for extracurricular projects with Estonian-speaking peers were also desired.
The forums - held this week in Tallinn, Tartu, Jõhvi, Sillamäe and Narva - involved over 100 Russophone students. A policy document will be produced, to be presented to Education Minister Jaak Aaviksoo on February 16 at the plenary session of the Assembly of Student Governments.