In the current century, the initial training of Estonian teachers has been carried out at the higher education level and generally in universities. Subject and class teachers of general education schools are trained at the Master’s level; preschool teachers and vocational teachers at the level of Bachelor’s study.
The quality of initial teacher training is assessed on the basis of the framework requirements for teacher training in addition to general higher education regulations.
These requirements regulate the training of teachers of preschool child care institutions, class teachers of basic schools, specialist teachers and special education teachers of basic schools and upper secondary schools, teachers of vocational educational institutions and teachers of professional higher education schools and universities.
Teacher training includes the following components:
- general education studies;
- study related to a specific subject(s) or a specialty;
- professional studies;
- a final thesis or examination of the relevant higher education level that includes pedagogical research.
In addition to initial training, the teacher training framework requirements also regulate organisation of the induction phase and continuing education.
Occupational standards form the conceptual basis for teacher training. The occupational standards for teachers are on the four described level, which gives a possibility to use standards also for planning not only the initial training and the induction phase but also the professional development of the teacher.
Professional qualification standards for teachers were revised in 2019 and the standards for vocational teachers are currently under revision.
Institutions, Levels and Models of Training
According to the higher education standard, the estimation of the volume of study foreseen in a curriculum is carried out in credit points of the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS). One credit point corresponds to 26 hours of study. The volume of an academic year is 60 credit points, i.e. 1,560 hours of study. The standard period of the curriculum of vocational teachers is 180 credit points (three years). Studies are carried out in the first cycle of higher education (professional higher education or Bachelor’s study).
Pursuant to the teacher training framework requirements, teacher training curricula shall include vocational training to the extent of at least 60 credit points and work practice at school shall count for at least 15 of these.
The initial training of teachers of preschool child care institutions is generally carried out in the first cycle of higher education but universities also offer Master’s curricula for training of preschool education specialists. At the first level of higher education the volume of the curriculum of preschool child care institutions teachers is 180 credit points and in Master’s studies 120 credit points. A person who has completed Master’s study is prepared also, for example, to teach children with special needs, to provide colleagues with professional counselling and to manage preschool child care institutions.
Generalist teachers, specialist teachers of basic schools and upper secondary schools, teachers of general education subjects in vocational schools and special education teachers are trained in the second cycle of higher education (the total volume of teachers' training being 300 credit points):
- Generalist teachers are trained according to the integrated curricula of Bachelor’s and Master’s study (5 years, concurrent model),
- other teachers are trained according to the three-year Bachelor’s studies followed by two-year Master’s studies (a consecutive model).
Students graduating from teacher training can undergo the induction phase. In the induction year, a junior teacher is provided with support for adaptation to the educational institution and organisation, the professional skills acquired during the initial training are developed further and the junior teacher shall be provided with support from a mentor for solving problems that may arise due to the lack of experience.
For teacher training, the pre-conditions for the beginning of studies in a corresponding higher education level are applied: the pre-condition for the commencement of teacher training is acquiredsecondary education or a foreign qualification equal thereto.
An additional pre-condition for the commencement of teacher training is passing teacher professional aptitude tests. Uniform formats for professional aptitude tests and uniform criteria for evaluating professional aptitude have not been established. Students are admitted to teacher training in universities on the basis of merit, which is calculated taking into account the average grades of a student candidate in a previous study period and the results of the professional aptitude test. Professional aptitude is assessed on the basis of an essay and on the basis of discussion or teamwork.
The admission threshold depends on the ratio between the number of those who wish to study and the number of study places available and on the level of the student candidates.
Curriculum, Level of Specialisation and Learning Outcomes
Teacher training curricula are drawn up on the basis of the Universities Act, the Standard of Higher Education and the Framework Requirements for Teacher Training.
According to the higher education standard, the objectives and learning outcomes of higher education curricula must correspond to the requirements and tendencies of international legislation governing the respective profession and if a occupational standard exists, take account of the acquisition and implementation of the knowledge and skills described in it.
Occupational standard is a document that describes a job and provides a list of skills, knowledge and attitudes, i.e. competence requirements, necessary for successful performance of work. Competencies described in the occupational standards for teachers, special education teachers and vocational teachers are taken as starting points in the development of teacher training curricula.
The occupational standards for teachers at level six and seven specify six compulsory competencies:
- supporting learners;
- planning of learning and teaching;
- reflection and professional development;
- cooperation and supervision;
- development, creation and research.
Level 6 and 7 of the occupational standard for teachers specify the following optional competencies:
- supporting learners with special educational needs;
- implementation of digital education.
Each competency has been described through activity indicators.
There are 11 competencies related to the job described through activity indicators.
Occupational standard for preschool child care institution teachers is at the sixth professional level. The structure of this standard is similar to that of teachers and is based on the specifics of the job of the teacher of preschool child care institution.
The main activity of a special education teacher is supporting and directing students with special educational needs in cooperation with other specialists. The standard at the seventh professional level that forms the basis for the special education curriculum includes seven compulsory competencies.
The compulsory competencies include:
- noticing and evaluating the special educational needs of a learner;
- planning teaching activities;
- developing learning environment;
- special education counselling and mentorship;
- professional development;
- development, creation and research in the field of special education.
Optional competencies include:
- special education training and supervising.
There are 10 competencies included in the profession of a special education teacher and these have been worded in a way similar to those included in the profession of a teacher.
A vocational teacher teaches speciality subjects in a vocational school and the requirements for his or her training and qualifications are lower than the requirements for teachers of general education subjects.
The occupational standard for vocational teachers differentiates between three levels of qualification for vocational teachers. A vocational teacher teaching only practical vocational skills and instructing practical lessons is not required to have obtained higher education.
The occupational standards of vocational teachers describe, in addition to general knowledge and skills, also the seven competencies necessary for performing required tasks:
- planning the process of study;
- forming the environment of study;
- supporting learning and the development of learners;
- reflexion and individual professional development;
- developing specialty studies;
- promoting the image of vocational training;
- developing organisational culture.
The vocational teacher level 7 includes also “supporting colleagues” as an additional compulsory competence.
The occupational standard of vocational teachers includes four optional competencies:
- organising practical training;
- management and leadership;
- performing adult continuing education;
- supporting learners with special educational needs in the process of study.
The vocational teacher level 6 includes also “supporting colleagues” as an additional optional competence.
The occupational standards for teachers have been developed in the framework of the Estonian vocational system providing description of levels that comply with those specified in the European qualification framework.
The framework requirements for teacher training establish special requirements for teachers of higher education institutions who provide instruction in didactics: a professional or subject-related teaching experience of at least three years in an educational institution of the corresponding educational level and teaching a specific subject or professional studies to the extent of at least 100 academic hours in an educational institution of the corresponding educational level every three years.
One of the tasks of the competence centres to be created at Tallinn University and the University of Tartu is providing courses in higher educational institution didactics, the development of which is based on respective research and development.
Qualifications, Evaluation, Certificates
Teacher training ends under the conditions and pursuant to the procedures established for the completion of the corresponding higher education level. Graduates from teacher training are awarded a diploma certifying completion of the curriculum together with an academic transcript or report card.
Teacher training studies of an additional subject or profession end under the conditions and pursuant to the procedures established for the completion of the part of the corresponding teacher training curriculum. Graduates are awarded a diploma certifying the completion of teacher training studies of an additional subject or profession together with an academic transcript or report card.
Alternative Training Pathways
The Estonian Lifelong Learning Strategy 2020 emphasises a need to use flexible forms of study in teacher training and promote opportunities for retraining teachers (new subjects, additional educational technologist competences, special education competence). To that end, European Social Funds will be used.
In the process of development of flexible teacher training models, initiative has been taken by a private programme Youth to School in the course of which a school-based teacher training curriculum has been developed in cooperation with universities. In 2019, the University of Tartu launched the programme The Experienced to School (“Kogenud kooli”) which targets professionals from other areas making a career change and completing teacher training while working.