The Estonian Lifelong Learning Strategy 2020 sees learning as a lifestyle. It is necessary to notice development opportunities and search for intelligent solutions. The learning process itself is based on values like:
Responsibility – people are aware that learning and self-development are their own conscious personal choices as well as responsibility.
Necessity – the learning process is guided by the individual’s personal interests and abilities and supports their development, whilst keeping in mind the requirements of the labour market.
Opportunities – a system of lifelong learning offers high quality, contemporary and flexible learning opportunities that are tailored for individual needs.
Lifelong learning begins with general education. There is a common system applied for general education in Estonia. In practical terms, this means that a common curriculum is taught in all levels of education, regardless of the language of study. The length of the study period consists of at least 175 teaching days (35 weeks) and four intervals of school breaks.
All municipal schools have designated service areas, meaning that the schools must ensure vacancies for all school-aged children living in their designated area. Parents can influence the school’s development through school board.
General education is divided to pre-school, basic and upper-secondary education.
Pre-school education is delivered to children between the ages of 18 months to seven years in especially dedicated educational institutions. The main aim of the early stages education is to support the child’s family through fostering the child’s growth and development by taking into account their individuality. Facilities for the pre-school education are provided by the local authorities at the request of parents. Pre-school children’s institutions follow state curricula that is specifically formulated for the purpose. Children who have passed the pre-school curriculum will be issued a certificate that records the child’s development. The parents will submit this certificate to the school where the child will be enrolled.
Basic education serves as the mandatory minimum of general education requirement, which can be acquired either partially in primary schools (grades 1 to 6), basic schools (grades 1 to 9) or upper secondary schools that also teach basic school curricula.
The basic school is divided into three stages:
- stage I – grades 1.-3.
- stage II – grades 4.-6.
- stage III – grades 7.-9.
Basic education is made available through two national curricula:
- national curriculum of basic school;
- simplified curriculum for basic school.
Graduating the basic school requires that the student learns the curriculum at least a satisfactory level together with passing three basic school graduation exams consisting of the Estonian language or Estonian as a second language, mathematics and an exam on a subject of the student’s choice as well as completing a creative assignment.
Following graduation from basic school, there are a number of possibilities for continuation of the educational path. There is a possibility to acquire general secondary education at upper secondary school, vocational secondary education at some vocational education institution or simply an occupation.
General secondary education is acquired at the upper secondary school level. Upper secondary schools are designed to help students become creative, multi-talented, socially mature and reliable citizens who have discovered a field of endeavour that is best suited to their individual interests and capacities for continuing their future educational path. The study programme at upper secondary school is arranged into mandatory and voluntary courses. Graduation from upper secondary school requires the student to complete a curriculum consisting of at least 96 individual courses passed at a satisfactory level as a minimum, passing the state exams consisting of the Estonian language or Estonian as a second language, mathematics and a foreign language exam, passing the upper secondary school exam as well as completing a student research paper or practical work during the entire study period.
Attaining general secondary education entitles students to continue their studies at a higher educational institution or to obtain vocational education.
According to the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act the school’s running costs will be covered by the school manager. In most cases, this means local governments. Local governments are authorised to establish, re-arrange and close general education schools. Local governments keep account of the number of compulsory attending children, ensure school attendance control, make arrangements for school transport and the provision of school meals and perform a number of related functions.
The number of the students in municipal schools will be used to calculate the amount of state subsidies allocated from the state budget to municipalites. The state subsidy is used for covering expenses on teachers’ salaries, social taxes, training and textbooks. Similar subsidies are also made available to private general education schools as prescribed by the Private Schools Act. In doing so, the state will refrain from prescribing guidelines as to the use of the funds allocated. The local government reserves the obligation and right to finance schools based on their actual needs.
The national curricula for basic and upper secondary schools
The national curricula establish the standard for basic and general secondary education. The curricula are implemented in all basic and upper secondary schools of Estonia, regardless of the schools legal status, unless otherwise stipulated by the law.
The fulfilment of national curriculum in schools’ curriculum
The study processes in the school are based on the schools´ curriculum, which specifies study goals, the values and competences thereby developed, study plans, the arrangements for the provision of support services and grade specific curriculum. The staff of the school is also involved in the development of the schools´curriculum. The school also involves students, parents and members from the other interest groups to the development of the curriculum.
Values, tasks and structure of the national curriculum
The core of national curriculum introduced at 2014 consists of eight overall competences that are to be cultivated during the study process. The emphasis has shifted from a teacher-centered approach to a student-centered one. In order to guarantee that the students will attain overall competences an interdisciplinary approach has been introduced binding together individual disciplines through the study of common subjects to compliment the individual subjects’ study and pedagogical aims. Competence is defined as a compilation of knowledge, skills, values and opinions, which ensures readiness to engage in lifelong learning and an ability to attain results in a chosen field.
National curricula highlight the differences between basic and upper secondary schools
The national curricula are designed to emphasise the differences between the two education stages based on the students’ age groups. This translates into variances in the learning process, evaluation and the elaboration of subject-specific competencies standards. The refocusing of emphasis from teaching to learning is supported by the formative assessment principle designed to help to support the student’s learning process and overall development. It is further emphasised that the learning processes must be designed according to the students’ health and strenght. There is a necessity to use the methodology which takes into consideration every sudents´individuality. Besides the physical learning environment, the importance of the social and mental aspects in the student’s development are emphasized throughout the curricula. Schools and teachers are free to arrange the learning process in a manner that puts the students in the centre of the process as well as based to the school’s speciality and resources.
The structure of curricula stresses the importance of co-operation and integration
The curricula designed for basic and upper secondary schools are structured around subject groups. In upper secondary schools, the subjects are divided into courses. The minimum study load required for graduation must encompass at least 96 courses, which are divided between obligatory and optional courses. Subject specific curricula make provisions for opportunities for combining subject-specific and inter-disciplinary approaches through employing cross-curriculum topics and unified approaches to evaluation.
According to the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act, it is possible to conduct studies in Estonia by following the curriculum formulated under the aegis of either the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) or the Statute of the European Schools. These curricula are designed foremost for the children of the foreign officials and specialists working in Estonia.
In Estonia, the opportunity to study according to the IBO curricula is provided by the Tallinn English College, Miina Härma upper secondary school, Audentes private school and the International School of Estonia.
The Statute of the European Schools serves as the charter for the operations of the Tallinn European School.
Estonia has two schools that operate based on the agreements between countries, one of them being the Kadrioru German Upper Secondary School and the other being the Tallinn Finnish School, which operates under a joint Estonian-Finnish curriculum.
Study based on the IBO curriculums is state sponsored in municipal schools, the Tallinn English College and Miina Härma upper secondary school, whereas in private schools it is the subject to the tuition fees. The tuition fees of the children of European Union officials studying at the European School as well as the tuition fees of children of the European School’s staff members will be covered by the state budget. In other cases, studies at the European School are subject to the tuition fees as stipulated by the school’s charter. Persons willing to apply for admittance must contact the schools directly in order to clarify the terms of enrolment.