In Estonia, more than 80 000 adults have not obtained secondary education, and this number has remained stable without indication of a downward trend. At the same time, the high proportion of people with a low level of education among young age groups is a worrying trend, which may lead to an increase in the proportion of people with a low level of education, if young people who have abandoned their studies cannot find their way back to education system.
To support the continuation of an interrupted educational path and use optimal resources in education system, one of the biggest changes in recent years is the gradual merger of adult upper secondary schools with state schools. The aim of the merger has been to ensure the availability of general education for adult students in vocational education institutions or state upper secondary schools with modern infrastructure. In 2016, merger negotiations were started with local governments. During 2019/2020, the first mergers of adult upper secondary schools with vocational schools took place. To date, five schools have gone through the merger process, while negotiations are ongoing with some additional local governments.
The following goals have been set for the reform:
- Reduce the number of adults with low levels of education.
- Provide learners with supportive measures (e.g., accommodation in existing student dormitories of vocational education institutions), flexibility and additional options (e.g., creating an option for acquiring a profession while obtaining secondary education, studying specialized subjects as electives, moving from one study form and curriculum to another).
- Offer adult learners as good learning conditions and learning environment as for students in stationary studies.
- Offer teachers better working conditions, including full workload and correspondingly higher salary.
- Ensure the availability of teaching staff.
- End the settlement of operating expenses of local governments for adult students.
- Plan investments at the level of secondary education uniformly, and to avoid investments in unnecessary, duplicative buildings, learning bases and information systems.
In the framework of the project, we will analyse the impact of merging adult upper secondary schools with a vocational education institution based on the example of five schools that have gone through the process so far. The aim is also to assess whether and to what extent the merger of adult upper secondary schools with vocational education institutions could lead to the intended goals of the merger reform, and whether and what kind of additional activities are needed to reach all the planned results.
To analyse the impact of mergers, we first map the needs, expectations and concerns among students, teachers and school managements of the merged adult upper secondary schools before the merger process focusing primarily on the results of the merger and the achievement of the set goals. As a result, policy recommendations for the are proposed in order to achieve the set goals and, if necessary, address emerging or still unresolved concerns.