Estonian top court: State does not have to provide basic education in foreign languages

  • 2024-06-03
  • BNS/TBT Staff

TALLINN – The Supreme Court of Estonia said in a ruling issued on Monday that the Constitution provides no right to demand non-Estonian basic education from the state.

From Sept. 1, a law amendment will enter into force, according to which the language of instruction in both basic school and high school is Estonian. In response to this amendment, which was adopted in 2022, a grandfather went to court to protect his and his grandchild's rights, requesting that the state be obliged to provide education to the children of the Russian-speaking community in Estonia in their mother tongue.

The administrative court returned the appeal, finding, among other things, that the possible infringement of the child's rights is too hypothetical, because the obligation to attend school will not be applicable until five years from now. The circuit court agreed with the administrative court that the child's school education is still too far away. In addition, it is not possible to challenge laws in an administrative court.

Considering that the school obligation stems from the law and reversing the process of transition to Estonian-language education would be extremely difficult, according to the Administrative Law Chamber of the Supreme Court, the applicants have approached the court at the right time. Despite the above, the Supreme Court also found that the complaint must be returned, as the grandchild and the grandfather representing them do not have the right to appeal in this matter.

The Supreme Court explained that the right to education provided for in the Constitution does not oblige the state to provide basic education in a language other than Estonian. It is possible to study in other languages ​​either in private schools or in minority educational institutions. Retention of nationality is a constitutional right. It is also protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. From this follows the obligation of the state not to prevent the learning and use of one's mother tongue. However, the obligation of the state or municipalities to provide education in a foreign language in state and municipal schools cannot be derived from this either. Therefore, the applicants do not have the right to demand that the state provide basic education in Russian.