The city of Tallinn believes that the choice of kindergarten should remain with parents and that primary education should have as few rules as possible.
“Our studies show that parents base their choice of kindergarten on many different factors, such as proximity to work and proximity to home. Often times, kindergartens are chosen based on the distance from their grandparents,” said Andres Pajula, Head of Tallinn Education said ERR, adding that the ministry’s change plan does not take parental interests into account.
Department of Education and Research (HTM) deputy general secretary Kristi Vinter-Nemvalts told ERR that the change is not aimed at getting local governments to ignore parents’ wishes when choosing a kindergarten. She said local governments should propose a system that would help them learn parenting preferences instead.
“Neither the preschool-age childcare law nor the principles contained in the proposed amendments limit the consideration of parents’ wishes. The draft law aims only to detach childcare from parenting efforts and obliges local governments to proactively offer the service, “said Vinter- Said Nemvalts.
The ministerial official said that the solution proposed by the change obliges local governments to find and offer kindergarten places to people. The city or rural community would have to inform the parents 90 days before the age of 18 months about a certain kindergarten place. After that, the parents would tell if they want to use it at this time.
“The law aims to avoid a situation in which parents have to queue for kindergarten places,” said the Deputy Secretary General.
The parents would not be obliged to accept the place and could apply for a place in another kindergarten. There is also no obligation to send children from 1.5 years to kindergarten.
The bill stipulates that local governments must take into account the distance between kindergarten and children’s home, whether children from the same family attend kindergarten, as well as parents ‘wishes, proximity to parents’ workplace and the family’s socio-economic situation, if possible. Requests from parents would cause local governments to reassess these circumstances.
According to Vinter-Nemvalts, cities and rural communities can use existing electronic systems such as the ARNO educational IT system to identify parents’ preferences.
Tallinn and the Ministry of the Interior criticize binding aspects
The bill includes other items that have sparked controversy. One of them is the mandatory progress assessment for preschoolers who are homeschooled.
Second, both Tallinn and the Ministry of Interior interpret the bill to mean that pre-school education is compulsory.
Andres Pajula does not think this approach makes sense. “Why do we force children to participate in the work of kindergartens – this is a sensible approach. /… / There are other ways to prepare children for school,” he said, referring to the progress assessment.
Pajula said kindergartens should not be turned into educational institutions with strict rules, although he understands the primary aim of the amendment to improve levels of education. “A child develops through play and company, not following a curriculum,” he offered.
The Home Office draws attention to a controversy in the bill, in which it stresses that preschool education remains voluntary, while parents of children aged three and older are expected to take part in progress assessment interviews once a year until the child goes to school.
“Therefore, the regulation provides that preschool education is voluntary and at the same time a mandatory progress monitoring system for preschool children is introduced,” the ministry said.
The ministry would like the bill to cite scientific research showing that the development gap in home-schooled preschool children is wide enough to warrant mandatory assessment and monitoring of all children. The data included in the explanatory memorandum for the bill tend to suggest that there are very few children.
The ministry also said regulation shouldn’t send the signal that raising young children at home is wrong and that children who don’t go to kindergarten stand behind those who do.
The Ministry of Education will wait for the Estonian Association of Cities and Rural Municipalities to respond by February 28. Then suggestions, questions and comments are dealt with.
VInter-Nemvalts said it was impossible to say when the bill might reach the government as it will take time to discuss and negotiate proposals. The timing of the bill will also depend on the priorities of the new coalition.
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