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The President's Radio Address on the Beginning of the School Year, on 1 September 2003

Honourable Teachers and Educators,
Dear Pupils, Students and Parents,

The whole family is excited today because the new school year begins. The smallest of the family with admiration is looking up to its big brother or sister, and would like to study schoolbooks with similar importance. The parents and grandparents on their part feel proud that, during the summer, their child all of a sudden has grown up. I wish you to enjoy both the beginning school year and each other.

This day in calendar bears the name of Knowledge Day. I'd like to congratulate on this occasion the whole learning Estonia. Tens of thousands not only of children and adolescents but also of adults start or continue school today. The knowledge and skills they are going to acquire will lay the foundation for their future career. They help them adapt to continuously changing environment and circumstances.

Yet a learning Estonia means a lot more than receiving initial or further education. This is a value approach without which the survival of Estonia as a nation is not conceivable.

The future of Estonia is knowledge-based society. This means, in the first place, that everyone must have access to education and, thereafter, equal opportunities to obtain education. However, just like a year ago, we have to concede that too many young people do not complete their education. The inadmissibly high dropout rate in basic schools causes particular concern, for just these young are susceptible to drug and alcohol abuse. Furthermore, this risk group is frequently connected with crime and spread of AIDS. It is my firm belief that the higher the number of young people going to school the higher the efficiency of social control.

But knowledge-based society also means more focus on people's development opportunities. Having a look around the world, we can see that countries having started from this fundamental concept rapidly made headway. For our small Estonia, too, education is all but the only chance of sustainable development, and this is reflected also in our national agreement, which is soon going to be ready and, as I hope, as broad-based as possible. Just the future of our nation - sense of security of families with children and accessibility of good education - constitutes the centrepiece of the agreement.

I will name here only a few steps, not costly at all, but which would significantly enhance the sense on security. For instance, a programme for young families with children to set up home; free school meals and textbooks, free out-of-school activities and other in-kind supports for pupils. Also country children would like to have and deserve good education. It is worth thinking, both in the countryside and cities, how to bring general and vocational education closer to each other. At least a half of high-school graduates should be guaranteed a state funded place in the next level school.

I have named only some of the issues dealt with in the national agreement, the purpose of which is to give all inhabitants of the country a chance of having a share in the benefits created. Yet, we will have turned our nice words into deeds only then when the state budget allocations for education will have increased significantly. To prove our appreciation of education we should increase the allocations for education by 0,2 % yearly over the whole next decade.

Learning Estonia as a value approach is important also in this respect that it helps us to adapt to the changes taking place in the world, to protect our interests and to keep our face. In two weeks time, on 14 September, the Estonian electorate will decide if they are ready to meat new challenges. And - are we ready to join the European Union?

I do not doubt the readiness of the majority of our people. The Estonian intellectuals already since our National Awakening have emphasized the European dimension of our education. Our accession to the European Union would just confirm it. What matters is that if we were capable of agreeing on the most important things among ourselves then we would be able to protect our interests in the European Union too.

Dear Listeners,

Today, I would like to stress among other things that the acquired knowledge must have an output also in one's own country and culture, for education in its essence means, above all, to recreate traditions, to preserve the continuity of language and culture. Learning Estonia - that's the way to civil society. Being a citizen means capability to share something we have in common: principles and values, memories and future goals, and a common language.

Education also means readiness to make choices. Watching different propaganda campaigns one might think as if the Estonians and Estonia had the choice only between what has been prescribed to them. Yet that's not the case! But we can see it the better the more learned we are.

Therefore, congratulating the learning Estonia today, I also welcome an Estonia where people are given options, an Estonia, which knows how to respect each person's self-esteem and its importance for safeguarding the future of our nation.

Dear Pupils and Students, Teachers, Mothers and Fathers,
I wish all of you a happy beginning of the new school year!
And a happy new beginning to all of us!

© 2006 Office of the President l tel: + 372 631 6202 l fax: + 372 631 6250 l