On June 19, 2012, Ambassador John Morrison attended the first graduation of four Estonian language immersion schools that had been established with the support of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) in 2000. The 82 graduates from the Estonian cities of Narva, Kohtla-Järve, and Tallinn – 22 of whom received a medal for their academic achievement – were also congratulated by Mrs. Gerry Connelly, the former Director of the Toronto District School Board and by the Minister of Education and Research of Estonia, Mr. Jaak Aaviksoo.
In the mid-1990s, Estonia opted to implement a language immersion program similar to those found in Canada. One of the program’s goals was to better integrate the large Russian-speaking community into Estonian society. Canada shared its successful experience in integrating minorities and promoting bilingualism with Estonia to support the country’s democratic transition.
In 2000, CIDA, the Toronto District School Board and the Estonian Ministry for Education and Research financed the establishment of this voluntary early language immersion program at Estonia’s Russian-medium schools. In 2003, CIDA also supported the development of a voluntary late immersion program (starting in grade 6). Canada has invested a total of 2.3 million dollars in these two projects. Throughout the process, the Office of the Canadian Embassy’s in Estonia played a key role in coordinating the Estonian government and local authorities with Canadian partners, as well as in the implementation and monitoring of the program.
The program’s success has rendered it an integral part of the Estonian education system. It is now a central component of the national curriculum and the methodology it uses has also been transposed to the teaching of foreign languages. The implementers of this language program in Estonia have praised Canada’s incomparable expertise in the management of a multilingual society. Experts from many countries, including Italy, Kazakhstan and England, have come to Estonia to witness the program’s positive effects on the country’s linguistic demographics. The program was presented with the Estonian President’s Education Award in 2003, as well as an award from the European Commission for its contribution to social inclusion in 2005.