The Lycée Français de Tallinn was founded in 1921 through a joint initiative of Estonia and France. “It was important for Estonia, as a small country, to have a closer connection with the rest of Europe. France has always been an important country, and maybe even more so now. When Estonia became independent in 1918, we wanted to become part of Europe, and European culture at that time mainly meant French culture, as it always has been,” explained the director of the French Lycée.
The French interest was to expand its influence. “It was after the First World War, and culturally Estonia had been more under the influence of Germany, because even in the days of Swedish, Danish, Polish or Russian rule in Estonia, the local power belonged to the German Baltic nobility. And France knew To compete with Germany, it was important to support as widely as possible the foundation of French schools. This is how the Alliance Française (ed.) partly finances the school.
Peter Pedak himself graduated from the French high school in Tallinn in 1999. After studying law at the University of Tartu and cultural management at the University of Tallinn, he decided to follow another path.
“I have always known that my main interest was the field of culture. I first became a diplomat for the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2004. I worked for 14 years, three of which were spent in France, in Strasbourg, to the Estonian representation in the Council of Europe”, he explained.
These years abroad revive his memories of his French school. “My original intention was not to become the principal of the school but a teacher. But when my predecessor announced his retirement, many of my former teachers and former students of the school recommended that I run for the post of principal. , and that’s what I did. . This is my fourth year.”
Pedak has never regretted his choice. “The life of a teacher is more complicated because what makes the strength in the life of a director is flexibility. I can choose myself the axis and the direction where I would like the school to evolve and the work is never routine. It’s a demanding job but I really like the human contact with both students and colleagues.”
Note that the French high school is not part of the network of French high schools abroad, it is an Estonian national high school. However, it remains a French school. “French is our first foreign language; children start learning it from the age of seven and they study it over the years,” explains Peter Pedak.
The promotion of French culture is also on the program. “French culture is present in all our events and ceremonies.” At the elementary school graduation ceremony, students entered to the tune of the old French song “Plaisirs d’Amour” and the Estonian anthem was followed by the French anthem.
“There is an emphasis on anti-classical French culture. You can see reproductions of famous French paintings in our school, and most of the authors studied are French. French art, music, literature is something that gives a framework to our school.”
A close link is established with the Embassy of France and the French Institute where the students participate in the jury of the literary prize of the Competition, take part in the celebrations of July 14, as well as linguistic exchanges with the Lycée de Nantes. “We visited it in the spring and the French also came here,” he said.
“We also like to ask our French teachers what it’s like to arrive at the small school in a small northern country and hear French and French songs. And they say it’s touching, warmer and moving than embarrassing. As Estonians, we can wonder how we would feel if it were the opposite, and we would have a sense of gratitude. We have always known that culture is not limited to a territory, that it is is a free choice of people, and when they make that free choice, it can be emotional,” reveals Peter Pedak.
According to him, the promotion of French culture is essential, Europe being one of the main reasons. “After the restoration of independence in 1991, Estonia wanted to join the European Union, and I think that helped us to build a better understanding between us and France, and French culture in particular. For us , it is important to have a certain balance beyond America or British culture to have new thoughts.Because in our imagination, the French are ready to privilege mental values before certain material values.
The current building was inaugurated 16 years later, and Estonia and France funded the construction of this building in equal shares. Before the war, it was a private school, but after the restoration of independence, when the school was reopened, it became a municipal school open to all children in Tallinn.
Speaking of students, some of them are here because one of their parents is French. “But I also know a French family who moved to Tallinn for work, and they wanted their children to keep a connection with French, while being able to study in Estonian. I think that will be more and more our future. If The French come to Estonia for work, so it’s a logical choice to choose our school,” said Pedak.
Fifty-six children are admitted in the first year and up to 72 in the tenth year, the upper secondary level, in which the pupils are separated between the beginner French class and the advanced class for those who have already studied French. “It’s important for us to have the whole cycle because it creates a feeling of unity and family between the younger and older students. They share certain events together. In real life, different ages are together , so we try not to separate them.”
Tallinn French Lyceum is one of the best schools in town, but overall Estonian education is at a better level than the European average. “If we look at the results of the PISA 2018 test, Estonia comes first among European countries. A new test procedure was used this year, but the results are not yet public. In general, the level is good, but i think the educational concerns are the same in all countries. The gap between ideals and reality is too big, which of course is due to lack of resources. Smaller class sizes would improve the life of the students and the teacher. Classes are big. , especially in Tallinn, and that means we can’t always give students the personal attention they need. That’s what worries me the more.”
Today the school welcomes Ukrainian refugees and many of them will continue to study here next year as well.
“I am very proud of my students and I am sure that they will all have a good life”, concluded Peter Pedak.