Interview with foundation stalwart Toivo Sikk
Procurement for the organisation of A2, B1 and B2 Estonian courses to be held in June
Sunday school teachers can now apply for support for in-service training
Marianna Drozdova joins Integration Foundation as director of research
Results of integration monitoring study to be showcased in Tallinn and Narva
Pärnu-based Russian culture and language school to explore Pskov
Toivo Sikk has worked for the Integration and Migration Foundation for 14 years. He has watched it develop since the early years. He is the director – and outspoken champion – of activities in the foundation that are directed at youngsters. He knows everything there is to know about Estonian schools and school life and has done much over the years to support young people in the country growing up to become true citizens. In May he celebrated his 60th birthday.
1. Where were you born, where did you grow up, and where did you go to school?
I was born in Valga and spent my entire childhood and school years there, perched on the border between Estonia and Latvia. I spent most of my summers in Ala, a village in Helme municipality in Valga County, where my grandparents lived, and sometimes in Laanemetsa as well. During my summer breaks I worked on the state farm at Taagepera in the beetroot and turnip fields, weeded spruce and pine plantations for my local forest management district, did a bit of hod-carrying in Ritsu and helped my uncle out with his metalwork. I graduated from school in 1973 and went straight on to study automation and telemechanics at TPI. I became even more interested in the subjects when I got a job in the automation lab there.
2. Where did you work before you joined the Integration Foundation, and what as?
In 1978, after I’d graduated from TPI, I found a position in the Special Construction Bureau of the Estonian Research Institute of Agriculture as an engineer. By the end of the year I’d already been promoted to senior engineer. In 1980 I was elected vice-secretary of the Harju Regional Board of the Communist Youth Organisation of Estonia, then I worked as an instructor on its Central Committee, then I was elected secretary, and in 1983 and 1984 I worked in the Organisation Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Youth Organisation of the Soviet Union, overseeing the work of the Young Communist League in four regions in Ukraine. It was in 1984 that I started to have more to do with kids and practical youth work and managing youth work-related areas when I was elected secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Youth Organisation of Estonia. For the next five years I was responsible for kids from rural and working-class backgrounds, youth science and sport, Sputnik [the international tourist agency for young people], youth publications – magazines like Täheke, Pioneer, Noorus and Vikerkaar and newspapers like Säde, Noorte Hääl and Молодёжь Эстонии – and the activities of the Estonian University Students Construction Brigade. In 1988 I started working on the principles of a national youth work policy, and developing and launching it became my main focus from 1990 onwards – first in the Ministry of Education of the Estonian SSR, where I was the head of the sector dealing with the youth work programme and later the director of the Youth Work and Hobby Education Department. I also managed the Youth Work and Sports Department for a year, and after that, right up until the 30th of June, 2001, the Youth Work Department of the Ministry of Education and Research. The intervening years saw the adoption and entry into force of a lot of acts that were needed to regulate the lives of kids – the Child Protection Act, the Hobby Schools Act, the Juvenile Sanctions Act, the Youth Work Act and both the Estonian Youth Work Concept and the Estonian Youth Work Development Plan for 2001-2004. I was also involved in the training programme that was launched for youth workers at what was then Tallinn Pedagogical School [now the Pedagogical College of Tallinn University] in 1992 and in training kids between 1992 and 2003.
3. How and when did you find yourself working for the Integration Foundation, and in what position?
I joined it, back when it was still called the Foundation for the Integration of Non-Estonians, thanks to its director at the time, Mati Luik, and a series of coincidences. When the Ministry of Education and Research relocated to Tartu in 2001, it was decided that integration-based stuff would be left up to the foundation. So Mati suggested to me that I set up an Educational Programme Centre within the foundation, and that’s where I started, along with one other full-time person and one part-timer.
4. Looking back at your 14 years with the foundation, what’s drawn you to your work, what is it about it that you like?
Over the years I’ve always found myself surrounded by great colleagues, and many of the people running the projects have been fantastic, too. Enthusiastic, dedicated, happy to work with you. When I started working in integration the team we had was comparatively small, but you could always rely on the people at the foundation. I’d gained a lot of experience in the work I’d done before, but integration as a field was new to me and presented a lot of challenges, since there were quite a few areas where I really was starting from nothing.
I’ve managed teams myself, or been on management boards managing teams, so I know how important it is to have a good atmosphere and positive thinking where you work, from the point of view of making what you do worthwhile.
5. What’s been the most memorable or most important event for you personally in all the years you’ve worked for the foundation?
The first thing that springs to mind is the winter retreat we kicked off 2002 with. It was our first one, and we had it in Kurgjärve. It was a training event, essentially, but with the seminars broken up by skiing and skating. We later added a summer retreat, too. Events like that made us gel as a team – we bonded, really – and shaped the foundation as well.
Another thing I remember goes to show how simple and seemingly ordinary things can turn out to be really important in integration terms. In 2010, students from Pähklimäe Secondary School in Narva [a Russian-language school] were involved in a project that was being funded through the EIF programme, and one of the events was an excursion for school kids to Saaremaa. For one of the boys who went on the excursion it was the first time he’d been outside of Ida-Viru County, and after he’d been across on the ferry, tried the island food, seen what the island was like, experienced the island culture and talked to the people there he said: “Estonia’s so big! There’s so much interesting stuff here! I’ll gladly live here!” A change had come over him in three days that textbooks hadn’t been able to effect in eight years. What people see and hear has far more of an impact on them than we think.
And from that we can conclude that you’ll never make somewhere feel like home to anyone just by getting them to read about it – they have to experience it for themselves. That’s why we run civic-themed projects in the foundation that give kids and young people between the ages of 7 and 26 a chance to see Estonia for themselves and really appreciate the beauty and magic of the place. And they don’t simply take part in the projects as onlookers – they’re the ones who put the projects together, who bring them to life and who pass on the experience they take away from them. What’s most important is that the emotional experience is something that stays with them for years. It’s not something they forget quickly.
6. How has the field of integration in Estonia developed in your view? Has it developed? What do you think we have to be proud of? What do we need to change and improve? What do we need to focus more on?
We had a thing at Salme Cultural Centre in March 2008 to mark the foundation’s 10th anniversary which brought together a whole load of people involved in integration. The fact so many of them turned up cemented the conviction I had that it’s an issue people really care about and that it’s not the taboo it once was. The word itself has become an everyday part of the language, and people have realised that we need to hold a steady course, not swing about from one extreme to another.
Integration’s something Estonians need, too. Estonians need to be integrated so that they understand people from other countries. And you’ve got to provide people from other countries who’ve come to Estonia with advice and training, and practical workshops on Estonian history and culture, so they don’t feel like outsiders here but blend in with society and be part of it. Although to do that they themselves have to put in the effort as well – learning Estonian and finding out about our culture and customs.
7. What do you think will be the big moment in 2015 that will allow you to say it was a successful year or not when you look back on it?
The main event for me this year will undoubtedly be the youth conference we’re organising for the first time on the 30th of October. It’s designed to get young people living in Estonia contributing to a debate we’ve called ‘What we can do to make Estonia a better place’. We want to bring the younger generation to the frontline of social development. To make them realise that if you want to get up front in society and do great things you have to seriously invest in what you know and soak up all the experience you can.
The other big thing’s our annual Citizens Day quiz, which will take place at some point between the 23rd of November and the 4th of December. We’ve been organising it for school kids since 2003, and in that time more than 50,000 have taken part. Between 7000 and 8000 per year in the last couple of years, in fact. We also have the annual Citizens Day essay competition for kids in Grades 7 to 12 at ordinary schools and kids at vocational schools, and that should be taking place this year from the 12th to the 30th of October.
A procurement is to be launched in early June as part of the ‘Activities supporting integration in Estonian society’ programme with the aim of providing Estonian language courses at the A2, B1 and B2 levels for permanent residents of and newly arrived immigrants to the country with limited skills in the official language.
The courses are designed to developed people’s skills in Estonian, broadening their general vocabulary and providing them with practical exercises on everyday topics which will help them make more use of Estonian in their studies, at work and in ordinary conversation and communication.The training courses at the beginner and intermediate levels (A2, B1 and B2) will be held between 1 August 2015 and 31 December 2016. Each course will last for 80-100 academic hours.The aim is to offer language training to at least 540 residents of Estonia and new immigrants who speak another mother tongue, come from another cultural background and have insufficient skills in the official language.
The ‘Activities supporting integration in Estonian society’ programme is financed by the European Social Fund.Information about the procurement can be found on the website of the Integration Foundation. Registration for the courses will be via the Integration Foundation website until 30 August 2015.
For further information please contact: Jana Tondi | Telephone: +372 659 9069 | E-mail: [email protected].
As part of a competition, teachers from national minority Sunday schools can now apply for support for participation in in-service training at a university and/or institute of higher education in teaching in their historical homeland.
The aim of the competition, which is being conducted by the Integration and Migration Foundation, is to support the in-service training of teachers from national minority Sunday schools in their historical homeland. The study and travel costs related to the in-service training will be supported as part of the competition.
The competition is open to Sunday schools to which the Integration Foundation has granted support in at least two of the last three academic years (2012/2013, 2013/2014 and 2014/2015) via the application round for the base financing of national minority Sunday schools.
The deadline for the submission of applications is 29 June 2015.
An information day outlining the details of the competition will be held from 11:00-13:00 on 11 June at the foundation’s offices at Lõõtsa 2A, Tallinn. Please register in advance for the information day by e-mailing [email protected].
Further details about the competition can be found on the website of the Integration Foundation. The competition is being financed from the state budget via the Ministry of Education and Research.The budget for the competition is 12,516 euros.
For further information please contact: Kristina Pirgop | Telephone: +372 659 9024 | E-mail: [email protected].
Joining the Integration and Migration Foundation in the last week of May as its new director of research was Marianna Drozdova, whose tasks will be the organisation and performance of analyses and studies in the field of integration. She will also oversee the organisation and analysis of data collection.
“Over the years the foundation’s built up a significant amount of experience of working with a wide range of people and organisations in the integration field, and it continues to play an important role in implementing activities in support of integration processes,” she said. “For me it’s an exciting challenge to get the chance to build up a system that brings together the multifaceted practical activities of the foundation with research-based analysis and which will give us a continuous overview of what’s happening in the integration field.”
Marianna has a BA in psychology from the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Tartu, majoring in public administration, and an MSc from its Institute of Psychology. She is currently completing her doctorate at the university in political science.
Marianna is a junior researcher at the Institute of Political Science of Tallinn University, where she has been working for the last two years on an international research project whose aim is to determine the preconditions for the context of inclusive integration. She has contributed to a number of research projects in the integration field – for example, the International and Social Studies Institute project ‘Study of social groups in the field of integration’. Her expertise was also sought in the drafting of the cultural policy document ‘Culture 2020’ within the field of cultural diversity and in developing the background information for the area of ‘Involvement and inclusion’ of the ‘Integrating Estonian 2020’ programme devised by Ernst&Young and commissioned by the Ministry of Culture. She has previously worked as a member of the board and project manager of an association in the non-profit sector and as a trainer and consultant in a number of organisations, such as Vain&Partnerid, Invicta AS, the Archimedes foundation and the NPO Eesti Väitlusselts. Her most recent duties have been connected to the international political science and sociology magazine Studies of Transition States and Societies, on which she was the editor-in-chief.
Marianna’s contact details can be found on the website of the Integration Foundation.
The ‘Monitoring of the integration of Estonian society 2015’ report, the sixth of its kind, has been completed. It seeks answers to a range of questions regarding language space, economic inequality, the labour market, enterprise, education, participation in social life and trust in state institutions. The monitoring is an independent detailed study of the integration field commissioned by the Ministry of Culture which is conducted every three to four years. This year’s study was drafted by experts from the Institute of Baltic Studies, Tallinn University and the Praxis Centre for Policy Studies.
Representatives of organisations linked to the field of integration and anyone else interested is invited to attend two events at which the results will be made public and to participate in the discussions that follow.
The events will be held in Tallinn at 14:00 on Tuesday 16 June (in the conference centre of the Tondiraba Ice Rink in Lasnamäe, Varraku 14) and in Narva at 11:00 on Friday 19 June (in auditorium no. 200 at Narva College, Raekoja plats 2).
Speaking at the events will be the researchers behind the monitoring and representatives of the Ministry of Culture.
For further information and registration please contact: Martin Jaško, director of communications for the study | Mobile: +372 50 52 568 | E-mail: [email protected].
Students and teachers from the ‘Järelaitaja’ study and development centre for Russian language and culture in Pärnu will be going on an excursion to Russia in June which will showcase the historical and cultural heritage of the city of Pskov and surrounds.
During the excursion the children will find out about Pskov’s historical and cultural heritage, its traditional and cultural values, the history of the ancient city of Izborsk, the nature of Russian culture and the historical role of Orthodox art. Many renowned people hail from Pskov – musicians and composers, artists and poets, writers and literary experts, architects and philosophers – all of whom have made outstanding contributions to Russian and world culture. One of the key events during the trip will be a visit to the Pskovo-Pechersky Dormition Monastery, which has a special place in the history of Russian Orthodox culture.
The students will find out about the history of the monastery, both its past and present, and visit its famous ‘God-given caves’, which form a unique monument in art history – a necropolis. The excursion is being held with the support of the Integration and Migration Foundation and the Ministry of Education and Research.