Reforms in basic and secondary school level in Estonia
The structure of basic and secondary education has constantly changed in Estonia, and this has sometimes been cited as its shortcoming.
The national curriculum went through some important changes in 2010 and the objectives of the various educational levels were defined.
• Basic education is the compulsory level of education; it supports the child’s willingness to learn and develops their learning skills. As a result, they should become active members of the society and constantly develop themselves.
• Secondary education is a voluntary level of education; it helps the student to identify the field of activity where their interest and skills lie, and which they could develop through further studies.
• An alternative to secondary education is vocational education.
In my presentation I would focus on basic and secondary school possibilities and goals. That is something, we had already agreed politically or we are quite closed to agreements in our society as whole.
Discussions about vocational education and reforms, and integration to secondary school or even basic school programme are waiting for the nearest future.
Estonia’s basic and secondary education are based on Estonian Lifelong Learning Strategy 2014–2020.
This document was initiated in 2012 and adopted in 2014. It is an innovative educational strategy, describing the lifelong educational path of an individual and defines the major goals that the education system should aim for.
This strategy also serves as the basis for a further development of the structure of basic and secondary education.
Next, some particularly topical issues that we are working on at the moment.
It is important for us to make sure that every child has equal access to high-quality education.
Our Constitution makes the state and the local governments jointly responsible for providing basic and secondary education.
This is currently the case. In order to ensure the best possible quality of education, we plan to distribute the tasks so that the local governments would provide basic education and the state would guarantee uniformly high-quality secondary education all over Estonia.
The ongoing reorganisation of the basic schools, secondary schools and vocational education centres network will change the number and accessibility of secondary level schools.
The most important reason behind this is the drastic drop in the number of students.
One of the main requirements for basic schools is that these should be as close as possible to the child’s home, which is why we must also support small schools and schools in peripheral regions.
Good secondary education, on the other hand, gives the students a choice between a range of disciplines and courses, provides highly qualified teachers, and unites a larger number of students to ensure a good educational environment and synergy.
Right now, we have too many secondary schools with only one form per year, or only a dozen students per class. This fairly painful reform of school network is necessary for keeping the quality of teaching high.
For example, in our second biggest city – Tartu – the secondary levels of four former 12-year schools have been combined within the last five years. The basic school levels remained on their premises, while the secondary levels were set up separately.
This has given us state-run secondary schools with four to five forms per year, which means 600 students and normal workload for teachers.
Another example is Viljandi County in Southern Estonia, which is planning to set up one 600-student state secondary school for the whole county.
From this point of my presentation You will find a lots of all kind of numbers. More important as the numbers itself are the tendencies of the processes and proportions of the amounts.
So – here we go –
The reorganisation of school network is largely funded from the EU structural funds for a total of 241 million euros.
The state takes on the responsibility of building at least 15 state run secondary schools by 2020.
You can see the blue part in the diagram in the amount of 109 million euros.
Considering the number of students, the required number of secondary schools by several researches has been estimated at 50 to 70, ministry of education has planned decrease the number of secondary schools from 202 to 100.
So some local government run secondary schools will remain in areas where there are enough students.
For the optimisation of the basic schools network there is the part in the diagram in the amount 106 million euros.
In addition, the state will assume the responsibility for ensuring school places for students with serious special needs, look at the part in diagram.
Students with less serious special needs will be integrated into normal schools, and the local governments must take this into account when optimising their school network. There are 9,5 million euros planned for these investments.
Our local governments have the right to take the private schools in the community into account when organising the school network.
In terms of reorganising our school network it is crucial how successful going to be our administrative reform.
As I mentioned before the drop in the number of students is one of the reasons of these reforms.
Reorganisations must take into account the undergone and predicted demographic changes. It is predicted that the population in most parts of Estonia will fall by a total of 9,9%.
In the diagram you can follow the red parts of Estonia where the predicted decreasing of population is more than 25%.
Only around the two biggest cities there is predicted some rise of population about 3,5%.
And to give you just some statistics – during the school year 2014/15, we had 137 336 students in 528 schools: 115 671 students in 345 basic schools, and 21 565 students in 183 secondary schools.
The state pays educational support to both municipal and private schools. The size of the state support depends on the number of students and includes a number of components, the largest of which is the teachers’ salaries – 81%.
The other components are school lunch – 8%, labour costs of directors – 6 %, teaching aids – 3% and investment component and in –service training for teachers and heads on schools – 1% each.
At the moment, the whole support amount is given in itemised way to local governments, so that the funds allocated for teacher training, for example, cannot be used for any other purpose.
I think that this rule is wrong because it hinders school owners from using the funds according to their actual needs, and promotes an inef’ficient use of the funds.
Our parliamentary committee has launched a discussion on how to make the use of state educational support more flexible for the local governments.
The most significant change in the study process is the change in the educational approach.
The new approach focuses on students – we must take into account and support the individual qualities of each student.
This is the basis for adjusting the curricula to the abilities of the students; grading will give better feedback on the development of students; and the whole learning process should become more creative.
All students are different. An estimated 40 % of Estonian students have an educational or a social special need that should be addressed by a specialist.
This is why it is very important to identify students with special needs at early stages, and advise and support them professionally.
We will try to pay more attention to this.
Studies have shown that attention to the individual needs of students and support services are crucial in reducing the dropout rate.
It is important for teachers to identify the special needs of the children, and the school must be ready to reorganise the learning process, or to involve a specialist.
Estonia has managed to reduce the dropout rate slightly, but not enough.
Dropout rate has considerably decreased at the 3rd level of basic school and at the level of secondary school. This can be attributed to the combined effects of a number of activities:
• Updating of national curricula and the grading system has created flexible learning opportunities that take into account the individual abilities and needs of students.
• Schools and local governments have the duty to intervene as soon as students fall behind. Repeating a year is not acceptable.
• All students must have access to special education teachers, psychologists and social counsellors in case of need.
• Out-of-school counselling is available at county student counselling centres.
• Accessibility and quality of career services has improved.
• For years, national supervision has prioritised support for students with educational special needs. Schools also check this in their internal evaluation process.
• Teachers are better prepared and skilled to identify children with special educational needs, determine the cause of the problem, and provide the necessary support.
Support services in schools should be ensured by local governments. The lack of specialists further complicates the situation. Not enough young people study speech therapy or special needs education; and even those who receive this degree will not go to work in schools because of the low salary and heavy workload.
Central national advisory centres have been established by the state where local governments can buy services if they do not think it necessary to add a specialist permanently to the school staff.
Sadly, this is where we come up against another deficiency – the poor financial means of local governments. At the moment, our national education support includes no means for funding the support services.
The parliament is also discussing whether the state should indeed financially support the local governments in fulfilling this responsibility.
More specifically – should the state educational support contain also the support service component.
The role of the teacher in the study process is becoming increasingly more demanding. This is why we must always keep an eye on the content of the primary teacher training and in-service training.
The state has taken over the organisation of in-service training in recent years. For quality purposes, it cooperates with faculties of education in universities.
Young teachers have given very positive feedback about the induction year when they are mentored by more experienced teachers.
The strategy has also set objectives on the age and gender dynamics of teachers. The ageing teaching community is not always capable of going along with the changes.
At the same time, the lack of male teachers affects the study atmosphere and the worldview of the students.
Particular attention is paid to heads of school, with recommendation to give them more freedom in managing the school life and to regulate their activities less strictly.
While a degree in pedagogy has been required so far, from now on more attention will be paid to the leadership qualities of the heads.
Directors have working contracts for un’specified term. That was decided about 8 years ago, but current situation need some amendments.
The planned changes should introduce a periodic evaluation of directors and their work, as well as the possibility to dismiss them for inadequate performance.
Teachers’ salaries have been under heated discussion for quite some time. The state has set the minimum monthly salary rate of teachers and allocates this amount to all school owners regardless of the form of ownership.
Through educational support, the state adds an extra 20 % to the minimum monthly salary rate of teachers so that these could be vary depending on the different tasks carried out by individual teachers.
This discretion has been delegated to school directors. We have set ourselves the objective of raising the teachers’ salary to 120 % of the average salary in Estonia by 2020.
Today the minimum of teachers monthly salary is 1087 euros and that means that in next four years we have to increase the amount of money for teachers salaries at least for 10 mil euros per year.
The objective of the digital revolution is to integrate digital solutions into the learning process, thus making it more varied and helping students to achieve better results. The digital revolution concerns both the development and introduction of study materials, as well as setting up an IT-infrastructure for schools.
There are excellent examples of study materials in the form of teaching aids as well as the interactive study environment – the e-class.
Almost 47 million euros has been planned to fund the digital revolution programme up to 2020.
That will be one of our most important topics during our presidency of EU in 2018.
Finally, let me give you a brief summary of some success but these are just the milestones and a lot of work waiting ahead.
Estonia’s high 2012 PISA world ranking and in particular in Europe.
For example the average result rased in reading from 501 points in 2006 to 516 points in 2012.
The same figures in mathematics are from 515 to 521 and in natural sciences from 531 to 541.
These are the topics that currently attract the most attention in the Estonian education system right now and in the nearest future.
Estonia has a very low school drop-out rate – just 0.2%.
91% of our teachers meet the qualification requirements.
74% of the Estonian heads of school have a master’s degree.
School leaders have 96.5% to 100% discretion over their school’s personnel policy and budget.
Every county has a learning and career counselling support system in place.