This week, we shared an article (via Twitter) from our colleagues at The Hechinger Report about the rising stature of the Estonian education system. We also asked several colleagues from Estonia, including Margus Pedaste, Professor of Educational Technology and Vice Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Education, University of Tartu, to comment on the article.
Estonia has not made big changes in the education system, Dr. Pedaste explained, but it has updated the national curriculum. Further, an increased focus on “general transferable competences (e.g. mathematical competence, digital competence, learning skills, communication competence),” has required some changes in teaching practice “even if this change is not often too big.” He also suggested that e-learning software and hardware are often used in Estonian schools today and may have influenced the results.
In responding to the comment that no one in Estonia “would say the school system is doing fine,” Pedaste concurred. “Yes, that’s what we hear very often in Estonia. We are very outcome-oriented and less process oriented and, even if teachers value student-centered approaches in learning, their lessons are still rather teacher-centered.” He added that Estonian teachers, on the whole are veterans, in fact their level of experience in teaching is among longest within OECD countries, at more than 20 years. As he put it “ This experience allows them to use the extensive practical knowledge they have and this might be one of the main reasons of good academic results.”
Pedaste also pointed out, that, as in Finland, most of Estonian teachers have a Master’s Degree, and “subject teachers” usually have a Master Degree in their subject plus a year of teacher training. He added that during the last 10-15 years new integrated Master Programs in teacher education have been developed and regularly updated based on international research-based and innovative ideas. Pre-service education for teachers is also always at least five years which likely contributes to the academic results. However, Pedaste continued, concerns in Estonia include that very often graduates do not want to become teachers, especially in subject areas like science and mathematics. From his perspective, this means that “something is wrong. And it is probably that not enough attention is given to developing soft skills, on collaboration and supporting each other. Too often Estonians are individualistic and competitive while real success and joy comes from collaborative effort.” While recent strategies have emphasized collaboration among teacher, Pedaste concluded “we still need more time to create a cultural change.”