One of the serious problems in the Estonian educational system is that the smaller towns are not able to provide the same quality of education as the larger cities. In addition, the teaching profession is not attractive to students. Almost half the teachers in Estonia are at retirement age or will reach that age by 2005. This older staff is very resistant to changes in educational philosophy and teaching strategies. The low teacher salaries are not attracting high-achieving students into the profession. Yet, the majority of students in Estonia meet the compulsory education requirement. In the 2000-2001 academic year, only 2 percent of 8- to 14-year-olds were not in school.
Estonia's low birth rate presents serious problems for the country. In the 1980s, an average of 22,000 babies were born each year. However, in the late 1990s the average birth rate dropped to between 14,000 and 15,000 births each year. The result has been fewer jobs for students who want to be primary teachers because 15 to 20 primary schools in rural areas are closing each year.
The required State Curriculum of 2000 is more student-centered than it was 10 years ago. A new revision, started in 2000, will be completed in 2007. The priorities of this new curriculum are student-centered instruction, Information Communication Technology (ICT), team work, skill development, and technology integration. In order to implement this new curriculum, more emphasis must be placed on initial and in-service teacher training.
The vocational educational track must be improved because, in the 1990s, it was often viewed as the place for students who failed in the academic track. A clear and successful job placement program must follow completion of the vocational track.
One of the most successful educational programs has been the integration of technology into the classroom. In the 1990s the government initiated the "Tiger Leap Project" with the goal of integrating computer technology into the educational system. In the 2000-2001 academic year, close to 100 percent of the schools had Internet connections, and computer science was the most popular elective. Schools had homepages with study materials accessible through the Internet. Since most of the instructional technology equipment was purchased since 1996, the equipment in the classrooms during the 2000-2001 academic year was modern and fast. It is common for students to use computer technology to make presentations even at the primary level. This emphasis on the integration of technology into the classroom at all levels should ensure that the Estonian educational system will graduate students who understand international issues and will be able to compete in the global economy.
Eurydice Database on Education Systems in Europe. The Education System in Estonia, 2 March 2001. Available from http://www.eurydice.org/Eurybase/Application/eurybase.htm.
Vaht, Gunnar, ed. Higher Education System in Estonia. Tallinn: Academic Recognition Information Center, 1997.
Vaht, Gunner, Maiki Udam, and Kadri Këutt, eds. Higher Education in Estonia. 2nd ed. Tallinn: Academic Recognition Information Center, 2000.
—Terry L. Simpson and Hasso Kukemelk
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