The educational mysteries and contrasts of Estonia!

Good morning all!

When we started our research in order to choose the countries we were going to cross during our stay in Europe, it seemed obvious to us that we also had to go to countries of which we heard much less about in North America, like East Europe and the Baltic States. It was not clear what was going to be discovered there. We were not sure where to start, especially since the documentation in French or in English available on the educational models of these countries is not very rich, but it is precisely what made them interesting in our eyes. And we were not disappointed! There are indeed big surprises to discover!

The biggest of these surprises is a very small Baltic country, with barely 1.3 million inhabitants and whose school population of 7 to 15 years old is just 143,000 children: Estonia! This country, which until 1991 was part of the former USSR has everything to surprise in terms of education! And for good reason, its results in the PISA test (International Program for Monitoring Student Achievement), places it in 1st European position and 3rd worldwide, or, you will understand, before Finland (5th internationally) . Spectacular results which raise several questions! How can such a small country, which had to rebuild itself entirely after the collapse of the former USSR, and whose official language, Estonian, is spoken nowhere else, can achieve such results?

Trendy schools

Experts say these impressive results may well come from the government’s decision to bet everything on digital to gain efficiency and contribute to the reconstruction of the country. Indeed, Estonia is today one of the most advanced world nations in terms of digital society. It is, moreover, one of NATO’s major cyber defense centers; the country participating in the active fight against cyber attacks. Digital touches all spheres of Estonian life. 95% of them even have a compulsory digital identity card from the age of 15 and which allows them to do almost anything. Whether it is to get your medication at the pharmacy (100% of prescriptions are sent this way), start a business, pay your taxes, use public transportation or even vote, this card is essential everywhere, at all times.

So obviously this way of everyday life has taken root in schools. Teachers have a digital space where they can communicate directly with their students and their parents, assess behaviors and enter grades in real time, answer questions and transmit work online.

But what really makes a difference is the ProgeTiiger program for learning the logic of code and algorithmics. Indeed, knowledge of digital technologies is recognized as a first-rate general skill and put forward by all Estonian schools. This program aims, among other things, to enable young people to create and use texts and content online, to filter information and develop their critical mind, to use adequate tools and techniques to solve problems, etc. In a very large number of classes, the blackboard gives way to screens, and tablets and computers are part of everyday life. This program and its link with the results of Estonian students on the PISA test will therefore be the subject of one of our reports on the spot.

The great importance of early childhood education

Another point that is put forward to explain Estonia’s results is the great importance that this country attaches to early childhood education. Supported by municipalities, early childhood centers meet the needs of children and their parents, from the age of one and a half to the age of 6. National programs focus on developing basic skills among toddlers in several spheres. In addition to arts, music and motor skills, these centers teach the national language, culture and mathematics. Here, as in schools, educators are responsible for developing the social and civic skills of children while offering them many activities. Teachers in Estonian early childhood centers, have a high level of qualifications and great freedom and autonomy in order to develop school content adapted to their local needs, as do teachers in primary and secondary schools. We will therefore take advantage of our visit to Estonia to explore these early childhood centers.

The Estonian school portrait in brief

  • School is compulsory there from 7 to 17 years old (or until passing the basic education exam which can be taken from the age of 15).
  • Estonia has an ancient tradition of educational quality. In fact, a survey carried out in 1881 showed that already at the time, 48% of the population could read and 94% of this number could read and write. A very impressive statistic for the time.
  • Estonia has made training its teachers one of its priorities. Despite this, the profession is little recognized and unattractive. The teaching staff is therefore aging despite the fact that the new teachers are very well prepared and supported when they enter the profession.
  • Even if pupils are guaranteed a place in the public school in their neighborhood, the choice of a school by parents is very widespread in Estonia. A large number of private establishments and international schools coexist there, and even some public schools are elitist and select students by entrance tests that have led to the creation of specialized institutions to prepare for it.
  • In addition to digital technologies, the ministry is developing initiatives to improve the social skills, creativity and entrepreneurship of young people.
  • Even though the Estonian school population is relatively homogeneous, there are significant differences in success between urban establishments and those located in rural areas.
  • The number of students per class and per teacher is one of the lowest in the world.

This is a first overview of the school system in Estonia from the little information currently available online. It will therefore be relevant to explore these impressive statistics and the reasons behind them on the spot.

See you soon,

Genevieve

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