Pursuant to the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia, everyone has the right to education. The Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act provides for the implementation of inclusive education as the guiding principle for the organisation of education. According to law, general education of good quality adheres to the principles of inclusive education and is equally available to all persons regardless of their social and economic background, nationality, gender, place of residence or special educational needs. Inclusive education primarily means the basic right of a person to education of good quality.
The basic values, principles for organising studies and general objectives of studies of a general education school are the same for all learners, regardless of their special educational needs or whether the studies are conducted in a regular school or in a school created for students who need support.
In 2012, Estonia ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, pursuant to which, persons with disabilities will be guaranteed with access to inclusive, high-quality and free general education at equal level to the other members of their community. Since the universal obligation to attend school is applicable in Estonia, education must be guaranteed to everyone, also including children with the most severe impairments. It is particularly important to take early notice of special developmental needs in preschool-age children and prepare the children for school to allow them to acquire basic education that corresponds to their abilities, and creates possibilities for the participation in continuing education.
According to the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act, a school must implement support measures to support a student’s development in a way that corresponds to the child’s special needs and adjust studies according to the individual needs or abilities of students if necessary. When teaching a student, a school may change or adjust the time, contents, process and environment of study. Studies corresponding to the student’s abilities and the necessary support in cooperation with teachers, support specialists, assisting teachers and other specialists are ensured for the student. The availability of services of a special education teacher, a speech therapist, a social teacher and a psychologist must be guaranteed for all students.
The principles of organisation of study for a student with a special educational need are described in the curriculum of the school. There is a person in every school appointed by the director who is responsible for the organisation of cooperation between support specialists and teachers necessary for supporting the study and development of a student with a special educational need. In order to support the participation of students in studies that correspond to their abilities, students are guaranteed education counselling services in public centres called Rajaleidja (Pathfinder in English) in all counties. External advisory teams of the centres perform independent evaluations, recommend the organisation and environment of studies and learning materials suitable for the child as well as advise the parent and the school or kindergarten. Today, in Estonia the Rajaleidja network and services form a system based on a common principle. At the local level, Rajaleidja plays an independent key role in creating a support network for a child with special educational needs.
In Estonia, there is a specialized school for students who need very specific organisation of study and resource-intensive support services. In addition, special classes have been formed in ordinary schools where the availability of special study for students with special educational needs is guaranteed if necessary. Most schools for students with special educational needs also have boarding school facilities. The number of schools for students with special educational needs and the number of children studying at these schools decreases year by year.
Republic of Estonia Education Act