New international school launched in Tartu

  • 2001-09-06
  • Aleksei Gunter
TALLINN - Sept. 1, better known as Knowledge Day in this part of the world, was strangely quiet this year, probably because it was Saturday. Monday morning brought throngs of smartly dressed, somewhat sleepy youngsters to the streets of Tallinn, most carrying flowers for their teachers. But seven young kids living in Tartu are starting their school year far away from home.

Aged between six and 12, their Western European parents are currently working in Estonia. They are going to a brand new school that opened on Sept. 3 thanks to Tartu Defense College and the city administration.

Two of the children are from France, three are from Denmark and two are from Norway. Three of seven are first graders.

The Tartu International School is basically one classroom at the Catholic School on Jakobi Street. The same building also hosts the Finnish School of Tartu.

Kristi Aria, the international school's director and one of only two teachers there, said that although the classroom was equipped for 10 students, there were no more candidates to fill the places.

"But if there's a demand for more places, we'll be very happy to organize it. We welcome children of any nationality, including Estonians, who would like to study in English,"said Aria.

The classes do not come cheap, however. Only a few local parents would be able to afford them. The tuition fee for this school year is 60,000 kroons ($3,500) - about three times the annual fee at any state-run university.

Soren Frausig, a lieutenant colonel of the Royal Danish Air Force and an instructor at Tartu Defense College, said establishing the school was one of his first tasks when he started working at the college two years ago.

The college hopes that opening an international school in Tartu will help the city to attract foreign specialists and professionals.

"No one will be making money from the school as it is a non-profit organization,"he said, adding that meals, books and other perks are included in the fee.

"The fee could be lower next year as the opening of the school has been a huge investment. We had to buy a lot of permanent equipment, like furniture and computers,"said Aria.

Children have individual programs in a compound class. There are always two teachers in the classroom at the same time - the head teacher and an assistant teacher. The process is carried out in two groups, six- to nine-year-olds and 11- to 12-year-olds.

None of the children speaks English as a native language. "The older ones have studied it at school, and the younger students can understand and speak it a little. So the first thing we have to study is that,"Aria explained.

The Catholic School has offered the older kids the chance to attend its woodwork and phys ed lessons. In general, the usual school curriculum is taught - math, science, English, history, social studies, all integrated with English. Music and drama classes add color to the pupils' lives.

"The younger children will finish their day with a subject called 'integrated skills.' This lesson will give them the possibility to play games, read, draw, write and communicate in English,"said Aria.

The Tartu International School will concentrate on the Scandinavian model of primary education and links with a school in Norway will help them do so.

Commenting on the children's attitudes to going to a brand new school on Aug. 31, Frausig said, "They're looking forward to it very much."

Tallinn can boast that its International School of Estonia, established in 1995, will already have its first school graduation next June. It operates on a non-commercial basis and has 97 students this year, 12 of whom are first graders.

George Lumm, director of the International School of Estonia, told The Baltic Times that the tuition fee at the Tartu International School could become insufficient for further growth and recruiting new teachers. The annual fees at ISE varies from $2,820 for preschool to $10,580 for grades nine and 10.

The International School of Estonia offers education to children aged 3 to 15 who are keeping some continuity with their home country education or who want to join an English speaking program. Teachers come from the U.S.A., the U.K., Canada, Australia, India and Estonia.

The students mostly come from Western European, Scandinavian and North American families who are in Estonia for business or diplomatic assignments. Estonian children are welcome as well.

TIS and ISE are the only two full-time schools in Estonia for children away from their native land.

According to the Education Ministry, 14,050 schoolchildren are attending the first grade in the country this year, 1,111 fewer than last year.