The Estonian Lifelong Learning Strategy 2020 (Eesti elukestva õppe strateegia 2020 (EÕS)) is a national education strategy. The strategy aims to provide the Estonian people with learning offers tailored to their needs and abilities throughout all stages of an individual’s life to provide them with dignified opportunities to sustain themselves in society but also their working and family lives. The strategy comprises the most important priorities of the Estonian educational landscape until the year 2020, reaching from primary and basic education to professional education and adult in-service training. The realization of the strategy occurs through nine programs and the European Cohesion Policy Fund’s 2014-2020 operational program’s priority axis 1 “Qualifications and Skills Meeting the Needs of Society and the Labor Market”, which is funded by the European Social Fund (ESF) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

On behalf of the Ministry of Education and Science, Praxis Think Tank and CentAR Center for Applied Studies evaluated to what extent the appropriate measures to reach the strategy’s goals are being implemented and how successful the implementation of those aforementioned goals has been. The study seeks to provide an assessment of what is done and recommendations for the planned follow-up strategy “Smart and Active Estonia 2035”.

This extensive study covered 27 research questions. To get an overview of the study, please review the respective topic pages and the study report. We are pointing out some of the more critical conclusions:

  • The establishing of the vision and the operational program of the strategy occurred independently. During budget planning, the usage of public resources and resources from the European Structural Funds were drafted separately. When developing the strategy of the next period, the approach should be more comprehensive to ensure that the creation of the vision and the operational program are integrated.
  • The centralization of teacher’s and principal’s training programs did not improve the indicators of a transformed teaching approach. The centralization of the education system was a step in the right direction. However, to improve its effectiveness the development of the system has to be continued, the participation of teaching professionals in training events has to be improved, and a culture of learning from each other has to be promoted.
  • There is a noticeable progression in the availability of digital learning material and the expansion of digital learning. Schools have started to self-assess their digital literacy. The main concerns remain the development of digital skills of teachers and the provision of technical support, but also raising awareness in both teachers and parents of those digital offerings. Furthermore, new ways of dealing with previous shortcomings of the system with the help of digital solutions are necessary (including the support of students with special needs, considering the individuality of students, improving the flexibility of arrangements, reducing the number of students dropping out, and others).
  • The adult education system works relatively well. The rate of adults engaging in lifelong learning increased a lot. Employers and the people themselves play an essential role in choosing and financing training programs. In the case of market failures or significant positive externalities, public financing is justified and necessary. It seems to be reasonable to merge the training and career counselling systems with the unemployment insurance fund, where training for the unemployed or the ones at risk of being unemployed has been highly appreciated for a while now. “Opening a gate” through public financing of training programs concerns primarily programs which intend to improve qualities relevant to the labour market.
  • The systemization of the school network aims to align it with demographic changes and to ensure equal access to education all over Estonia.

The systemization of the school network has to be accelerated significantly to utilize the 230 million euros available until 2023 to reach these goals. As of 2017 only 10,000 m2 of school surface have been modernized, which is only 8% of the targeted goal. The number of high schools has been reduced to 160, which is 63% of the targeted 100. As of the publication of the study, six basic schools have been reconstructed, which is considering the volume of the measure, only the beginning. Investment decisions with a total volume of 100 million euros have been made for another 34 basic schools, seeking to modernize another 105,000 m2 of school surface and to reduce land use by 95,000 m2. To this day, only 20% of the budget has been used. Therefore it is especially important to ensure that those investments are made.

Basic schools aim to offer quality basic education close to home. The systemization of the education system has not significantly worsened access to basic education. Only very few basic schoolers are located remotely from any basic school. The performance and effectiveness indicators of schools have not improved in the observed period but slightly decreased.

The aim of the creation of national upper secondary schools was to offer high-quality secondary education on a county level. At this point, there are 17 national upper secondary schools, and for the year 2023, the aim is to have a total of 24 of these schools, at least one in every county. For now, the creation of national upper secondary schools has not worsened the differences between the county centres and peripheral regions. The accessibility of secondary education has marginally declined. About 850 youth (ages 15-19) are located remotely from any high school (i.e. approximately 1.4% of the age group).

Th systemization of the school network is not yet complete, and the hoped-for results are therefore not reached or measurable yet. The national upper secondary school system may incur initial difficulties, wherefore the study should be repeated in five to ten years.

In addition to the team of Praxis Think Tank this study is co-authored by Mari Liis Räis, Epp Kallaste, Liisbet Aland, Sten Anspal, Janno Järbe, Aileen Lang, Siiri-Lii Sandre and Marko Sõmer of the Center of Applied Studies CentAR and Jaanika Jaanits, Triin Lauri, Kristjan Piirimäe, Kairi Põder and Liina Rajaveer.