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Adult education


Adult education is divided into formal education, informal work-related training and retraining and popular adult education.

Flexible study opportunities have been created for adult learners: distance learning and evening courses, external study and part-time study, as well as participation in various courses.

Formal education acquired within the adult education system allows adults to acquire basic and general secondary education at adult upper secondary schools through distance learning, evening courses or external study. Adult upper secondary schools are flexible in preparing individual curricula and adapt the study process to the needs of the students, allowing them to study single subjects, for example.

In addition to formal education, institutions of vocational education and higher education are providing increasingly more continuing education courses and retraining courses. These courses allow adults to acquire and improve their professional, occupational and speciality knowledge, skills and experience as well as to retrain themselves.

Training courses allow students to develop their creativity, talents and social skills also. Such training is usually linked to people’s interests and hobbies. Although this training is mainly provided by informal education centres, it is also available at many other training institutions.

The Association of Estonian Adult Educators ANDRAS and the Ministry of Education and Research have been organising the Adult Learners’ Week every autumn since 1998.

The objectives of this week are to value education, learners and educators, and introduce learning opportunities. The activities of the Adult Learners’ Week have expanded over the years and events are organised throughout the entire year, in addition to the main event, which lasts a week.

  • Funding for formal education

    The acquisition of basic and general secondary education through evening courses, distance learning and external study is free for the adult learner.

    In the field of vocational education, many flexible forms of vocational training and forms of study have been implemented for adult learners, with part-time study provided for the learners free of charge.

    Part-time study is usually not free for students in the field of higher education. In order to be able to obtain a state-funded study place, the learner must apply for a full-time study programme. Free part-time higher education is provided in nationally prioritised fields, e.g. for teachers without a higher education.

Work-related training

Work-related training and retraining provided as courses were generally not free for learners until 2007. The state funded the training of unemployed people and certain specific groups (e.g. teachers, officials).

Ministry of Education and Research, Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, and Ministry of Social Affairs have developed a three-pillar division of spheres of responsibilities in the state financing of professional training of adults.

Ministry of Education and Research – the target group consists of employed adults whose training is financed through education and training institutions.

  • Ministry of Social Affairs – unemployed people and persons seeking work, whose training is financed through the Unemployment Insurance Fund.

    Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communication – the target group consists of employed adults whose professional training is financed through companies.The ministries are trilaterally responsible for creating work-related training opportunities for the adult population with the help of financial support from the European Social Fund.

  • Popular adult education

    Funds can be allocated for popular adult education from the state budget as well as the budgets of rural municipalities and cities. The Ministry of Education and Research has allocated funds to popular adult education centres for the remuneration of their teachers and managerial staff since 1995 on a competitive basis (funding has been provided to approximately 45 popular adult education centres per year). Since 2005, the activities of popular adult education centres have also been funded by ESF.

    In addition to direct financing, the state also supports the funding of training by employers and learners through tax incentives: work-related training financed by the employer is not viewed as a fringe benefit and income tax exemptions only apply to the expenses of private individuals.



The Adult Education Act (2015) is the central act of the adult education system. It stipulates the right of every person to constantly develop their knowledge and skills, the obligations of the state and local governments in the coordination of adult training, and the obligation of employers to grant study leave to learners engaged in distance learning, evening courses, external study or part-time study.

Other important acts of legislation that regulate adult education include the following:

  • The regulation of the Minister of Education and Research, "The Procedure for and Conditions of Attending a Basic School or Upper Secondary School in the Form of Evening Courses or Distance Learning, and Graduating from School as an External Student",  regulates the learning opportunities of adults in basic schools and upper secondary schools;
  • The regulation of the Minister of Education and Research, "The Procedure and Conditions for Organising Professional Education for Adults by Vocational Educational Institutions" regulates the organisation of adult professional training by institutions of vocational education;
  • The regulation of the Minister of Education and Research, "The Procedure for the Formation of State-Commissioned Education within the Area of Government of the Ministry of Education and Research" legalised state-commissioned adult vocational education as a new type of state-commissioned education in 2007;
  • The Institutions of Professional Higher Education Act regulates full-time and part-time study and external study, together with the organisation of training courses and the recognition of previous study and work experience;
  • The Universities Act regulates full-time and part-time study and external study, and the organisation of training courses as well as the recognition of previous study and work experience;
  • The Private Schools Act regulates the establishment and operation of private schools. Pursuant to the Act, all legal persons in private law who provide studies for a duration that exceeds 120 hours or six months per year must establish a private school and apply for an education licence.

Development plans

The "Development Plan for Estonian Adult Education 2009-2013" is a continuation of the "Lifelong Learning Strategy 2005-2008".

The development plan has three main goals. The first of them is the same as that of the lifelong learning strategy for the years 2005-2008 – the implementation of the development plan gives adults better access both to formal education and non-formal education in order to improve the knowledge of people and the level of education of the population and to increase the percentage of people aged 25-64 participating in lifelong learning to 13.5% by 2013.

The other two goals of the development plan add more qualitative indicators in addition to the measurement of the participation rate – to decrease the proportion of people aged 25-64 with general education (general secondary education, basic education or a lower level of education) and those without professional or vocational education to 32% in the population and to create the preconditions for obtaining a single tier higher level of education or qualification through high-quality education for as many people as possible. In order to fulfil the three general goals, the development plan has specified indicators, measures and activities that have been divided under five targets.

The strategic planning for 2014-2020 is based on Estonian Lifelong Learning Strategy, which is a document that guides the most important developments in the area of education. It is the basis on which the government will make its decisions for educational funding for the years 2014-2020 and for the development of programmes that support the achievement of necessary changes.


Upper secondary schools for adults


Last updated: 16 October 2017