Global Estonian | Teachers with a spark and state support help preserve Estonian language and culture globally
Merike Barborak - Coordinator for Estonian schools abroad - Institute of the Estonian Language
Merike Barborak (Coordinator for Estonian schools abroad - Institute of the Estonian Language)

Teachers with a spark and state support help preserve Estonian language and culture globally

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The new coordinator of the network of Estonian schools abroad Merike Barborak writes about her thoughts in her new position.

According to statistics, an estimated 200 000 Estonians live outside Estonia. This large number makes one think. One in five Estonians. We could think that the Estonian state has lost these Estonians. Conversely, we could think that actually, one Estonian in five has a different role – to act as Estonia’s ambassador, proudly take the Estonian language and culture across the world – this means extending the size of our little Estonia beyond its geographical borders. We could say, tongue in cheek, that Estonia’s greatest patriots live outside Estonia.

However, what is motivating a child born and raised in a different environment to speak Estonian and act as a cultural ambassador? Warmth and love for Estonia at home, the respect of parents and their wish to remain Estonian is certainly one incentive. Yet this is always not enough. Here the teachers of Estonian language and culture across the world have an important role. They encourage children to speak even when they lack the vocabulary and are struggling with pronunciation. You, teachers with a special spark, who light up the eyes of children. Teachers who have been pillars that preserve traditions for years, even through changing times.

The support and encouragement provided by the Estonian state to families and teachers is equally important. For years, the Estonian state has used various programmes to support Estonian schools and training centres across the world, and thanks to this support and the initiative of communities, there are considerably more opportunities for learning Estonian language and culture.

There are schools, societies and teachers teaching Estonian language and culture in one way or another literally across the world.  For example, there are the general education schools, such as the Stockholm and Riga Estonian Schools; schools offering traditional additional training; playgroups; virtual and hybrid learning; language clubs etc. The network is large and wonderfully diverse. The people who came together in Alicante for the Mother Tongue Days in mid-March were equally wonderful in their diversity. It is a tradition the Estonian schools in Europe have maintained for 14 years, meeting in Paris, London, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Brussels, Luxembourg, Helsinki and many times in Germany. The Mother Tongue Days serve two purposes – training teachers, and making and reinforcing contacts. During the days, we could note that many schools and teachers have developed excellent relations over time – it gives strength to teachers themselves, reinforces the work of schools/groups and increases the efficiency of the network’s work.

Support for the network of Estonian schools abroad was transferred to the jurisdiction of the Institute of the Estonian Language early this year. This brought a change, a nice support structure in the form of the staff of the Institute of the Estonian Language, a new home on Roosikrantsi Street and me – the new coordinator of the network. I have lived near New York City for more than 20 years, and as the Head of the Estonian School, as a teacher, a member of the community and as a parent, my life and work have been closely linked to the Estonian community abroad. Throughout these years, I have experienced how invaluable support from the Estonian state is – be it financial to support projects, making and mediating contacts or often merely just hearing us out.

The main lines of coordination of the network of Estonian schools abroad will remain largely the same under the Institute of the Estonian Language. The call for proposals for education projects will support the daily academic work and other activities that contribute to the preservation and advancement of the Estonian language. There are always more great ideas than the funds to support them but the key to success is more often in cooperation between schools and creative solutions that are usually born in the course of conversations. This cooperation through conversations – whether through screens or in real life – is what I would like to inspire as a coordinator. As the more distant schools – in North America and Australia – have inevitably remained outside more active actions, we would like to encourage them, above all, to take part in Mother Tongue Days, but also other gatherings.

One important instrument is offering trainings. We are continuing with virtual trainings that provide overviews of various topics, but we also plan to dig deeper and offer a more thorough course on methods. The always-popular summer school is held in late July in Tallinn this year.

Most teachers of Estonian schools abroad work on a voluntary basis or for a symbolic fee – their work bears fruit years later. For the teachers of Estonian schools abroad, it often comes in an even more indirect way – for example, when students decide to study in Estonia, welcome them in fluent Estonian years later or keep an Estonian flag on their desk. The Estonian state continues to recognise the work of teachers but I would like to call on everyone to notice and thank teachers who are putting their heart and soul in their work. It keeps a spark in their eyes and gives them the strength to carry on.

I would like to underline that every education centre, no matter how small, is important for all of Estonia. I would like to thank everyone who cherishes the Estonian language, as well as the teachers, the parents and the supporters!

Merike Barborak
Coordinator for Estonian schools abroad
Institute of the Estonian Language



Veebilehte haldab Integratsiooni Sihtasutus.
Sihtasutuse asutaja on Eesti Vabariik, kelle nimel teostab asutajaõigusi Kultuuriministeerium.