In the field of integration, diversity education is one important topic. It must be possible for Estonian-speaking children and children whose native language is not Estonian to study together in Estonia’s schools, to learn the Estonian language, while also preserving their own cultural identities. Due to the segregation of kindergartens and schools based on language, there are insufficient communication means, friends from different ethnic groups and joint activities developing in society.
The national curricula for basic schools and upper secondary schools contain important themes related to fundamental human values and social values, such as freedom, democracy, respect for native language and culture, patriotism, cultural diversity, tolerance, solidarity, responsibility, and gender equality.
Estonian as a second language gained relevance as an important part of the government’s policy after Estonian reindependency. Versatile activities financed by the state and the European Social Fund are aimed at integrating children, adolescents and adults whose mother language is other than Estonian into the Estonian society.
Estonia has a unified education system, which means that the same national curricula apply equally to all Estonian schools in basic and upper secondary schools. However, there are some differences in the curricula due to the learning of the first and second languages.
In basic schools, the language of education is decided by the school owner in accordance with the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act, which means mostly that the language is chosen by the local government. The Ministry of Education and Research has prepared analysis and proposals for improving the teaching of Estonian in basic schools. The level of Estonian language proficiency among young people has increased significantly, but there are still many challenges in this area. The Language Inspectorate found in 2019, that in about 33% of Russian elementary schools, the level of teaching the state language is such, that students can only say a few phrases in Estonian on graduating the school.
The language at all upper secondary schools is Estonian. Exceptions can only be made by the Government of the Republic. In most Estonian upper secondary schools, all subjects are taught in Estonian. There are also secondary schools where classes are held in both Estonian (60%) and Russian (40%). Additionally, the International Baccalaureate (International IB) curriculum and the European School curriculum are in use, the specifications of which are the Gymnasium Act.