How Estonia Does It: Lessons From Europe’s Best School System | Education Committee

In Estonia, children are learning robotics from the age of seven and teachers are using virtual reality to bring geography, chemistry, history and languages ​​to life. This tiny former Soviet state has the best education system in Europe, according to the International Student Assessment Program run by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Despite relatively low spending on education, Estonia ranks among the top countries in the world in all three areas of assessment for 15-year-olds: reading, mathematics and science. Its schools are also the best at promoting equity, and Estonian students are among the happiest in the OECD. Technology is one of the secrets of its success. Estonia, or e-Estonia as it likes to be known, sees itself as a start-up countries and 99% of government services are delivered online. There are electronic ID cards as well as online voting and the government invested early to ensure that all schools had access to devices and a good internet connection.

The majority of students are using electronic timetables and exams are gradually being moved online. Most school assignments and tests are set digitally, reducing the amount of corrections for teachers. There is also a national online library of over 20,000 educational resources called “e-Schoolbag”.

As advanced studies such as robotics begin at age seven, Estonian students are encouraged to find areas that interest them


Entrepreneurship runs through the whole system. Schools enjoy a high degree of autonomy, and school leaders are free to decide how to organize students’ lives and shape the curriculum. There are no regular inspections. Schools are assessed every three years through online tests for students and authorities only intervene if there is a problem. “We trust our teachers and our teachers have a lot of autonomy,” Liina Kersna, minister of education and research, told the commission.

Teachers feel empowered to continue their work and there are almost twice as many per pupil in Estonia as in England. They spend less time in class than most teachers in the OECD, which means they have more time for lesson preparation and professional development. All the teachers in the school have a master’s degree and the kindergarten teachers have a first degree.

In Estonia, children do not start school until they are seven years old, but they are legally entitled to a place in kindergarten from the age of 18 months. Nurseries are heavily subsidized, so parents never pay more than 20% of minimum wage (less than £500 a month). At the end of kindergarten, children receive a school readiness card outlining their skills and development. Those who need support are referred to a specialist, such as a speech therapist, before starting formal education.

In the “basic school”, which runs from seven to sixteen, the emphasis is on inclusion. School meals are free, as are transport, textbooks and trips. Classes are mixed and students are not systematically separated into groups. Students in difficulty or with behavioral problems are taken to private lessons or in small groups. Most schools have their own psychologist and there is a National Wellbeing Survey to assess the mental health of students and teachers. Exclusions are virtually unheard of.

• “From an early age, there is this desire for examination and examination and examination”: the point of view of the pupils

• “It’s as if they were a cog in a giant wheel, producing results”: the parents’ point of view

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Most young people continue their studies until the age of 19. About 25% attend vocational training institutions and the rest progress to more academic gymnasiums. Everyone is expected to pass their school certificate and if they fail they can retake it.

Kersna explained that the curriculum is moving away from “knowledge and understanding” towards “implementation, analysis, synthesis and evaluation”, with more collaboration between subjects. The focus is on problem solving, critical thinking, values, citizenship, entrepreneurship and digital competence: the qualities that employers say they want.

At the end of their school career, pupils are only formally assessed on three subjects: Estonian, mathematics and a foreign language (most of them choose English), but the program is much broader than that.

Education in the humanities is compulsory until the age of 19. Students must carry out a transdisciplinary creation project to obtain their basic school diploma and a research project before leaving high school. Music, sport, theater and art are included in the program.

Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education at the OECD, said: “In Estonia, nobody would have this term ‘extracurricular activity’. For them, it’s the course. »

Politics has been removed from education. Estonia has an education strategy up to 2035, which enjoys broad cross-party support. “It’s a problem if every time a government comes, it has its own plan and wants to change everything,” said Gunda Tire, the country’s international assessment manager. “Education is a thing that takes time.”

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