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Estonia - Education and Schools

In Estonia, the first of September is known as ‘knowledge day’. This is the start of the academic year for everyone, from kindergarten children to university students. Summer holidays last from mid-June until the 31st of August in addition to autumn, winter and spring breaks.

The Estonian Lifelong Learning Strategy 2020 views learning as a lifestyle, with continuous self-improvement. The learning process itself is based primarily on these values:

Responsibility: Students should be aware that learning and self-development are their own conscious, personal choices, meaning it is their responsibility to engage fully in these tasks.
Necessity: The learning process is guided by an individual’s personal interests and abilities and should support their development, whilst keeping in mind the requirements of the labour market.
Opportunities: A system of lifelong learning should offer high quality, contemporary and flexible learning opportunities that are tailored to individual needs.

General education in Estonia is divided into three sections: preschool, basic and upper-secondary education. Preschool education is for children between the ages of 18 months and seven years, and takes place in kindergartens. The main aim of this early educational stage is to encourage the child’s growth and development while accounting for their individuality and abilities. Facilities for the preschool education are provided by local authorities. Preschool children’s institutions must follow the state curricula, which has been specifically structured to achieve the above goals. Children who have passed the preschool curriculum will be issued a certificate that documents their development. This record will be submitted by the parents to the school where the child will be enrolled after their seventh birthday.

Basic education is the mandatory minimum general education requirement. This can be acquired either in primary schools (grades one to six), basic schools (grades one to nine), or upper secondary schools which also teach basic school curricula. After year nine, students have a choice: to either remain in school and obtain the necessary qualifications for university attendance, or leave school and enroll in college to learn a manual vocation.

General secondary education in Estonia is taught at the upper secondary school level. Upper secondary schools are designed to help students become creative and multi-talented. Students are also taught to become reliable citizens who have honed their talents and are working on implementing them in their future educational and career paths. The study program at upper secondary school is divided into mandatory and voluntary courses. Some additional courses are free, while others carry a fee that needs to be paid directly to the school. Graduation from upper secondary school requires the student to complete a curriculum comprising of 96 individual courses passed to a satisfactory level as a minimum. Students also need to pass the state exams: Estonian language or Estonian as a second language, maths and a foreign language exam. Students are allowed to sit one state exam of their choosing. In addition to passing the state exams, completing a student research paper or practical work during the study period is also mandatory.

Since the beginning of 2012/2013 academic year, higher education became free of charge in Estonia for those studying full-time and in Estonian. A new, needs-based student support was system put in place from September 2013. Students from less privileged backgrounds can apply for a study allowance when studying full-time and completing at least 75 percent of the curriculum as a minimum. Depending on a child’s circumstances, this allowance can amount to anywhere between €75 and €220 per month. Students who started their studies in 2012/2013 or earlier and who study full-time are also eligible to apply for a study allowance of €55.93 per month. PhD students who meet the necessary requirements can receive up to €383.47 per month. Students involved in teacher training can apply for a special study allowance of €1,300 per year. These students also have the possibility of a special study loan from banks. The average amount of a study loan is around €2000 per academic year. Additional information can be found on the Estonian ministry of education and research website; English version available.

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