The studies show that the educational outcomes of students with higher socio-economic background are often higher than their peers with lower socio-economic background. In Estonia according to PISA this link is weaker – in other words, the Estonian Basic school students’ outcomes are very good, almost despite the students’ socio-economic background. What explains the success of Estonian educational system and what can other countries learn from it – these are the central questions of the international BRAVEdu project.
The factors that explain the Estonian basic school students’ high and socially equitable educational outcomes can be divided to three levels:
- Societal culture. Estonians have for centuries believed in education – they have been convinced that in order to be successful everyone has to work and study hard. This mentality has been reflected in our educational outcomes since the 19th century when the share of those who went to school and knew how to read and write was one of the highest in Europe, until today, when we have one of the highest shares in Europe of people with secondary- as well as with higher education.
- High quality educational policies that support the studies. Most of the Estonian educational policies in recent decade have been made strategically – with long view, by talking through with the stakeholders and only weakly impacted by the political conflictual forces. Besides the strategic educational policymaking for the Estonian students it is also helpful that the social policies are universal, i.e. school lunches, study books, medical care, etc. is free, not only for the ones who need it the most, but for everybody.
- The empowering work done by the schools. Compared with many other countries Estonian teachers and school leaders are more autonomous, and as it came out, they know how to use this freedom to support students’ welfare and development.
As a result of the study we articulated some key messages to the teachers and school leaders from other countries:
- Take the autonomy you have and use it responsibly;
- Inclusive school environment requires shared leadership;
- Support cooperation and build trusting relationships among school stakeholders;
- Use students as experts, especially in terms of meaningful student involvement in school governance;
- Create extracurricular activites plan to boost creativity and students’ potential;
- Screen students’ and teachers’ individual needs and interests at various points and levels in order to best support their potential.