TALLINN - With just over a month to go until the start of the new school year, education officials in Estonia say that they do not have an overview of how many teachers and what proportion of school staff have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, Postimees reported.
Nor have schools received precise instructions from the Ministry of Education and Research on how teaching will proceed when general education schools open their doors in September.
Minister of Education and Research Liina Kersna said that the situation in this regard is currently chaotic, as the ministry does not know about teacher vaccination rates either.
"We have information on the vaccination rates of teachers who agreed to take part in the preferential vaccination, and they equal over 60 percent of the total staff of general education schools. Almost 90 percent of them have been vaccinated with two doses by now. But as for the remaining 40 percent of the employees of general education schools, we really don't have an overview at the moment," Kersna said.
Under law, the Ministry of Education and Research does not have the right to view people's personal data in order to obtain such an overview and, based on it, to decide how to carry out regular testing in schools in the new academic year for unvaccinated school staff. To resolve the situation, the government approached the Ministry of Justice to get an analysis on said topic.
"It's certainly necessary to get school leaders to have the right by the fall to know who of their teachers are vaccinated and who are not," Kersna said on a podcast of Postemees.
In response to a question from Postimees, spokespeople for the Ministry of Justice said that the topic is being dealt with and, while there is no specific deadline, the analysis will be forwarded to the government in August at the latest.
"What needs to be analyzed are both the possible legal bases for processing such data and the purposes for which the information is used," Kertu Laadoga, PR adviser at the Ministry of Justice, said.
Arvo Pani, the director of the Kadrina High School in West-Viru County, where teachers stood out already in February for being actively involved in vaccination against coronavirus, and where 100 percent of school staff are now vaccinated, said that a school manager is pleased when staff understand how serious the coronavirus is and how important the teacher is in school and how much it affects the whole learning process.
"I just don't understand these teachers who are still unvaccinated. Unfortunately, they don't feel this huge responsibility and it makes me sad," Pani said, adding that there is nothing the head of school can do by means of compulsion.
However, inquiries with the Ministry of Justice reveal that the government's plan is much broader than just changes to educational institutions.
"The focus of the task is a bit broader, according to the government's decision, meaning that it is not limited to school leaders and staff, but covers employers and employees more broadly," Laadoga acknowledged.
As Pani said, the simplest solution lies in leading by example.
"We could influence people by personal example and perhaps to some extent by trial and error. If some of our colleagues still get sick and the illness takes a very serious course in them, maybe that will change the minds of people who don't want to be vaccinated," the principal of Kadrina High School said.
Asked whether one could be certain that the beginning of the school year will not bring with it alternating between distance learning and contact learning for young people, the minister responded that everything depends on vaccination.
"If we get most of the teachers vaccinated by the autumn, and if we also get the young people vaccinated, then we can face the school year pretty confident," Kersna said.