TALLINN - Unions representing more than 3,000 researchers at Estonia's largest universities have issued a public appeal during the run-up to the March 5 general election, arguing that previous governments have ignored the fact that Estonia's deepening education crisis is threatening the survival of the country's democracy, economy, and Estonian as a language of culture and science, unless investment in education is increased significantly.
In their joint appeal, the unions of researchers and other staff of the University of Tartu, Tallinn University of Technology, Tallinn University and the Estonian University of Life Sciences say that Estonia's deepening education crisis has not received nearly enough attention in the election campaigns, even though it threatens the future of all areas of life.
"All voters should demand that politicians solve the education crisis," said University of Tartu professor Irja Lutsar.
Tallinn University associate professor Birgit Poopuu described it as a serious problem that the Estonian education system is essentially not managed as a whole, which is why there is a crisis at all levels.
"There is a catastrophic shortage of qualified teachers and lecturers from kindergarten and basic school to doctoral level. Working conditions and pay levels are not attracting nearly enough young people into education. In higher education, this means not enough lecturers and not enough young researchers," Poopuu said.
Ants Koel, senior researcher at Tallinn University of Technology, noted that experts in the field of education have actually developed necessary solutions and various parties have also agreed among themselves on how the crisis could be resolved.
"One and a half years ago, a broad-based education agreement was concluded, with which both general and higher education representative bodies stated that a sustainable solution is to invest 1.5 percent of GDP annually in both teachers' salaries and higher education," Koel said.
According to Tallinn University professor Daniele Monticelli, courage is needed to take difficult decisions in order to find money to invest in education, which would be an indicator of statesmanship in the current situation.
"Really important decisions are rarely popular. Research confirms that investing in education is an investment that pays back economically, socially and culturally," he said.
Heiki Lill, lecturer at the Estonian University of Life Sciences and the head of the university's trade union, drew a parallel between the situation in education and national defense.
"We remember how, after joining NATO, some political forces tried to explain that there was no need to invest in Estonia's own national defense and that conscript service could be abolished. Today, we can sigh with relief that this was not done. Now that the war in Ukraine has put this understanding in place, our country has begun to make up for the backlog and urgently increase investment. The situation in education is somewhat similar to that in national defense some time ago: there's money only for most pressing needs and professionals are in the mood of leaving their jobs," Lill said.
It is not wise to wait for a similar shock, where schools are empty of teachers and lecturers and the level of education has gone down. Instead, investments in the key area of Estonia's sustainability must be made immediately by differentiating teachers' salaries, introducing proper basic salaries for lecturers, and other well thought out measures, Kadri Leetmaa, associate professor at the University of Tartu, added.