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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Developments and current policy priorities


8.Adult education and training

8.2Developments and current policy priorities

Last update: 27 November 2023
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The societies founded in the second half of 19th century mark the beginning of provision of adult education in Estonia. In 1923, Eesti Haridusliit (Estonian Education Union) was founded for coordinating the activities of education societies in the Republic of Estonia (1918–1940). In 1920s and 1930s, studying in the so-called folk high schools located in cities whilst working became overwhelmingly popular.

In 1940, after the beginning of the Soviet occupation, all people’s associations, including all societies and folk high schools, were closed. After the 2nd World War, the main expression of informal education included the activities carried out in clubs and the activities of informal education circles operating under the clubs. The first folk high schools were re-founded as late as in 1958 and they operated with clubs, libraries, higher education institutions, etc. In formal education possibilities for studying whilst working were ensured at all levels of education throughout the Soviet period, studying whilst working was promoted. Benefits were introduced for the students of institutes of higher education and institutes of secondary specialized education pursuing their studies in evening courses and non-stationary form of study, and for those who studied successfully in the workers’ schools or schools for young people living in the countryside who continued working in a production plant whilst studying.  

Provision of adult education during the period of the Soviet Union can briefly be characterised as follows:

  • 1960s – training, retraining and qualification improvement system for workers was developed;
  • 1970s – training system for managers and specialists was developed;
  • 1980s – theoretical, methodological and methodical basics for adult education were brought up to date;
  • 1990s – legal and economic base for adult lifelong learning was developed.

Very shortly after the restoration of independence in Estonia, re-establishment of adult education system began. Estonia was one of the first states of so-called Eastern block to adopt an Adult Education Act (1993).

In 2005, the Government of the Republic of Estonia approved the  Development Plan for Adult Education 2005–2008, which is the first national source document regulating the development of adult education after the restoration of independence. The main objective was to improve the possibilities of adults to participate in lifelong learning and, thereby, increase the share of people aged 25–64 years participating in the training to 10%. In 2008, the corresponding figure was 9.8%, i.e., higher than ever before in Estonia.   

In 25 September 2009, the Government of the Republic of Estonia adopted the Development Plan for Adult Education 2009–2013, which followed the above-mentioned development plan. The development plan set three main objectives:

  • to ensure adults better access to both formal education and non-formal studies with a view to improving the knowledge of people and level of education of the population and increasing the share of people aged 25-64 years participating in lifelong learning to 13.5% by 2013;
  • to decrease the share of people aged 25–64 years with general education (general secondary education, basic education or a lower level of education) and without professional or vocational training to 32% of the population, and
  • to create conditions necessary for acquiring one step higher level of education or qualification by as many people as possible through high-quality education and training.   

Since 2014, the Estonian Lifelong Learning Strategy 2020 (ELLS), has been the reference document for development planning in the area of adult education. The named strategy is a document that guides important developments in the area of education, on the basis of which decisions on allocation of funds to education from the state budget are made and programmes supporting necessary changes are developed. The developments in the area of adult education are described in more detail in the adult education programme, the aim of which is to motivate adults to involve in learning and create high-quality and flexible learning opportunities that address the needs of the labour market. 

The main political priorities of adult education in 2014–2020 are:

  • Improving access to learning opportunities for adults with lower levels of education and competitiveness and encouraging the target group to return to education

The high share of adults without a professional or vocational qualification (29.6% in 2013, which is more than 200,000 people) and the fact that the number of people who interrupt their studies without receiving secondary education (according to the data from 2013, 68,200 people of all people aged 25-64 were without secondary education, and this share is higher among younger age groups – among those aged 20-34, more than 40,000 people were with basic education or lower) presents a serious problem in Estonia.  

During this European Social Fund funding period, the Ministry of Education and Research focuses on returning adults with lower levels of education back to formal education and supports acquisition of vocational skills through provision of relevant free-of-charge qualification courses. The adult education programme has a special focus on reorganisation and flexibility enhancement in non-stationary form of study. To that end, VÕTA system which recognises earlier studies and work experience will be developed in general education, contributing to the improvement of flexibility of learning and completing curricula. Curricula and organisation of studies in schools will also be analysed. Activities aiming at promoting the return to and continuation of education have been planned at both legal and regional level as well as in schools providing general education in the form of non-stationary study with a view to.

  • Modernisation of the legislation regulating non-formal training and establishment of requirements contributing to the provision of high-quality training.

The Adult Education Act harmonises the requirements for the institutions providing further training in respect to training activities, by contributing to a better access to information by the learners (curricula are public, having a website is compulsory, a learner is awarded a document proving the completion of the course, which complies with certain established criteria, etc.), and allows for an overview of continuing education institutions operating in compliance with the requirements. The quality of training is supported by the output-based development of curricula and disclosing the description of the qualification, competencies and professional experience of the training providers on the websites.   

  • Development and implementation of structures and systems for determining need for training in an up-to-date and appropriate manner.

According to the Estonian Lifelong Learning Strategy 2020, one of the bottlenecks of lifelong learning is the fact that nearly one third of the Estonian working-age population are without professional training, the participation of people with low qualifications in lifelong learning is low and differences between what is provided in lifelong learning and what is needed in the labour market are too big. The educational institutions and the labour market do not actively cooperate towards the development of a lifelong learning system. 

In the European Social Fund funding period 2014–2020, a regular and systemic coordination system of surveillance, forecasting and feedback of labour need (OSKA) is launched. In the framework of OSKA, platforms for cooperation between employers and the educational and training institutions providing education services are developed, opportunities and needs for development of different economic sectors in Estonia are analysed and occupation or profession-based labour market commissioned education is compiled for planning studies conducted at different levels of education and in different types of school, and in retraining and continuing education. The results of OSKA analysis and forecasts are inputs for the qualification and career counselling system, curriculum development in educational institutions and for several authorities which fund studies.   

The Ministry of Education and Research and Kutsekoda are responsible for managing OSKA.

Legislative References

Estonian Lifelong Learning Strategy 2020

Adult Education Act

Standard of continuing education

Professions Act