Speech of Mr Toomas Luman at the Opening of the Business Season on 27.08.2022
Dear members and friends of the Chamber of Commerce, dear guests!
It is good to see that some things constant in time and still create interest. We have organised the Opening of the Business Season in different locations in Estonia already 25 times. We have found an opportunity to come together and talk to each other no matter if the economy is growing or decreasing, whether we have a pandemic or any other crisis. Once again we have to admit that Estonians are enterprising, but also sturdy and determined.
As the beginning of the business season and the beginning of the school year are close, one of the talking points on this stage, but among entrepreneurs in general has been education. Our worry for the quality of education is extensive. It concerns all levels and areas of education – from kindergartens to higher education institutions. The education system is one whole and we should consider it as such. It is not enough to focus only on one part. If the basis is weak, university is out of question. Therefore, to begin with, I call on all the parties to look at the education system as one and not to forget any of its parts.
The fact that the talk about the lack of teachers is increasingly passionate shows that the problem is very, very serious. The Board of the Chamber of Commerce has talked about this for years, and in 2018, where the OSKA report on education and research was published, the situation became visible for everyone who dared to take a look at it. Although the feeling was bad already before, the study confirmed clearly that the situation with subject teachers is bad on all levels of education. The situation and the forecast was especially dire with the teachers on science subjects. There were not enough of them, and the ones that still worked were of quite high age already back then. This report took a look at the data of 2017, now we look at the data of 2021. Increasing electricity prices are a small concern next to what we are facing when we look at these tables. At least we still have electricity, and hopefully we can still cover our needs with our production and smart management. But the situation with teachers is such that in a couple of years, there simply is nobody to stand in front of the class. Nearly 30% of the subject teachers in physics and chemistry are older than 60 years. The picture is not much better in mathematics, languages or history teachers. The situation is even worse in vocational education than in general education.
Should we replace the blackboard with a screen and the teacher with a hologram?
Perhaps it is inevitable, but unfortunately, the recent years showed rather well what is the impact of remote learning when the teacher is not observing or instructing. The screen is not for everyone. Furthermore, it does not replace human support and discussion with teachers, which every learner needs for advancing. The level of achieving study results fell so much that the exams that verify if the mandatory level of education is achieved were not held. Fortunately, this was temporary and not permanent as the ministry had wanted at one point.
What would change the situation? As the director of Tallinn Kuristiku Gümnaasium says in the last issue of the Chamber’s magazine Teataja, a very important component in motivating young people to become teachers, is salary. A teacher who works full time and has a Master’s degree must be paid a motivating salary, because our future literally depends on them. If we want to ensure that there will be enough teachers in the future, a starting teacher with a Master’s degree should receive a salary, without overtime and additional work, in the amount of at least 120-123% of the average gross salary of Estonia. When speaking with the headmasters it is clear that the school year that is starting now is the last chance to develop a career model for teachers in which a teacher’s professional development is tightly connected to significant increase in salary.
We must quickly design a society in which the salary of the top teachers of example physics, mathematics and chemistry, but also engineering subjects would be comparable to the sciences and engineering specialists of other areas.
If we are unable to push for the increase in the following generation of teachers right now, we are failed. This is not only a question of education, but that of national security.
Dear guests. The parliamentary elections are coming and everyone is trying to speak of the tax debate again. As if that would make us all richer. I can, yet again, confirm that it does not. It would be wise to let go of the tax debate and other replacement activities and let’s talk about goals. Existence of teachers, police, rescue workers and other essential public service providers, and ensuring their motivation, is a question of priorities. However, if we want to make everyone happy, offer public transport that is paid by taxpayers and is increasingly more expensive, ensure common health insurance, which is independent of income, ensure unlimited hobby education paid by the state, then the collected tax money will, of course, not be enough. But that is a question of choices. We have to give something up. You cannot have everything. There are limits to tax money. As there are limits to loan opportunities.
It would hurt to tell one’s constituency that this is it, but I believe that in the end the voters, too, understand what is important and progressive. Every parent wants what’s best for their child.
And in conclusion. I am happy that in spite of troubled times, we managed to come to visit Ämari airbase and Estonian Air Force. That is an opportunity that is not available every day and therefore I wish to thank on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce the former commander of the Air Force, General Rauno Sirk, officers and non-commissioned officers of the airbase, and the current commander of the Air Force, Colonel Toomas Susi. Thank you!
With that said, I declare this business season open!
Toomas Luman, President of the Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Photo: Erlend Štaub