REVIEW #6: Estonian Education System 1990-2016: Reforms and Impact

The Estonian education system has a long history – its first academic schools were founded in 1630 (Tartu) and 1631 (Tallinn). In 1632, the first university, the University of Tartu, was founded. In the second half of the 17th century, the first Estonian folk-schools were opened. The aim of those schools was to provide education in the native language so that students could read the Bible. According to the census in 1897, the level of literacy in Estonia was 79.9 percent, the highest in the Russian Empire (56.3 percent in Moscow and 62.2 percent in Saint Petersburg). In 1920, six grades of education were made compulsory, which rose to eight grades in 1959-1963 and nine grades in 1968-1988. The Estonian education system maintained its peculiarity during the Soviet occupation – teaching was in Estonian, the atmosphere in schools derived from progressive ideas and democracy, textbooks were by Estonian authors, and teaching arts, music, and foreign languages were given a great emphasis.

Education System Today

The governance of the education system is shared between central and local authorities, and schools have a high level of autonomy in resource allocation. The state sets national standards and establishes principles of education funding, supervision, and quality assessment. Early childhood education and care is managed by local authorities and most decisions in lower secondary education are made by the school. Most schools are public (96 percent compared to the OECD average of 81.7 percent). Higher education is divided between professional higher education institutions and universities. Both can give a doctoral degree and are accessible to graduates of general and vocational upper secondary schools. Estonia’s expenditure on educational institutions as a percentage of GDP per student (for all education levels combined) is below the OECD average, with a higher share of public funding than the OECD average.

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Mihkel Lees