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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
National reforms in vocational education and training and adult learning


14.Ongoing reforms and policy developments

14.3National reforms in vocational education and training and adult learning

Last update: 2 January 2024


The increase of compulsory education age is accompanied by VET reform

With the extension of compulsory education to age 18, Estonia has initiated a reform of vocational education and training. There are plans to increase the proportion of general subjects in VET, extend vocational secondary education to four years, broaden the range of specialties, increase the variety of training options, and make the training more flexible and personalised. 

Prompted by changes in society, economy, and learners' expectations, the reform shifts the focus from acquiring specific operational skills to developing broader general skills like problem-solving and teamwork. The objective is to create new VET curricula emphasising lifelong skill development, including adaptability for retraining and new career opportunities. 

By the plans, in spring 2025 basic school graduates will be able to enrol in gymnasiums and vocational schools at the same time, with comprehensive vocational secondary education curricula offering an alternative to gymnasium education. The reform also aims to integrate vocational education more closely with other educational levels, partially extending vocational secondary education studies to four years to support higher education progression. At present, less than 10% of vocational students continue their studies in higher education. 

Curricula with smaller share of general subjects will also be retained to maintain the possibility of graduating with a vocational certificate only. 
Currently, more than 60% of vocational students are adults, and for them VET has become continuing training. There are plans to start asking fees for repeated studies. The reform will also entail restructuring the school network to bring the VET schools infrastructure in line with the declining enrolment. 

The age of compulsory schooling will be raised to 18 from 2025/2026, by which time vocational education and training should also be transformed.

Updates to the Vocational Education Act and national VET curricula prioritise flexibility and labor market coherence

Updates to the vocational education law have been initiated. The focus of the changes is on the right to education, increasing the role of employers as stakeholders in the educational system, opening up the educational system, and recognition of different ways of learning. The new law aims to regulate less and focus on more fundamental issues, to give participants in vocational education both more freedom and responsibility, to support the preservation of the strengths of the VET sector and address its weaknesses.

At the vocational secondary education level, national curricula are being changed to support more effective implementation of lifelong learning principles in the VET system, to increase the coherence of VET with labor market needs, to create prerequisites for developing competencies needed for the green transition, and to introduce micro-qualifications. The changes also support the design of a flexible and individualized educational pathway.


A new indicator will be used to monitor the internationalisation of VET

Estonian VET learners and teachers have been benefiting from mobility grants provided by the Erasmus+ program since 2014. However, no methodology has been established so far to collect the mobility data. To monitor the internationalisation of VET and to support the planning and analysis of mobility policy and measures, it is necessary to ensure quality data on VET learners´ and teachers´ mobility.

In 2021, a national mobility indicator has been developed to monitor the internationalisation of vocational education and training: the share of VET graduates who have participated in short-time learning mobility (%). Students who have participated in learning mobility for at least 2 consecutive weeks during their studies are taken into account.

Learning mobility will be prioritised in the development plans of VET schools. Data collection and analytics on Erasmus+ and other mobility schemes have been improved. From January 2022, VET schools start submitting mobility data according to the new methodology.

The creation of the new indicator is in line with the Council Recommendation of 24 November 2020 on vocational education and training that encourages the creation of opportunities for learning mobility of vocational learners and staff and sets an EU-level objective for 8 % of learners in VET to benefit from learning mobility abroad.

In the Estonian Education Strategy 2021-35, the promotion of learning mobility in VET includes the following:

  • develop additional measures to increase the mobility of teachers, vocational teachers, support specialists and university teaching staff, in particular within the European Union;
  • create opportunities for short-term mobility of Estonian pupils/ students;
  • ensure the recognition of periods of learning mobility at all levels of education by improving the international comprehensibility and transparency of certificates and diplomas;
  • provide foreign language learning and education in foreign languages for both VET learners and teachers/trainers.

Merger of upper secondary schools for adults with VET schools improves learning conditions and resource efficiency

In the academic year 2021/22, there are 10 upper secondary schools for adults in Estonia, where 91% of students study at ISCED 3 level. One of the biggest developments in adult education in recent years has been the partial integration of adult upper secondary schools with vocational schools. To prepare for the integration, negotiations were launched with local governments in 2018. In the process launched in the 2019/20 academic year, five schools have been merged and negotiations are underway with several municipalities (managers of schools).

Merger improves the learning conditions of students, provides them with additional options, reduces redundant school space and improves the efficiency of resource use. A study is planned to assess the effects of the merger.

Although part-time upper general education is intended primarily for adult learners, it is also popular among young people due to the flexibility of studies. Half of the students in the upper secondary education for adults are up to 19 years old. Compared to the previous five years, in 2021/22 the share of young people in part-time general education has increased 2021/22.


The Adult Education Act will be amended

The planned amendments will create a two-stage quality assessment system for continuing education institutions with the goal of providing higher-quality education to adults. Previously, finding a suitable, high-quality provider of continuing education has mostly been the responsibility of the learner; the latter have, however, lacked sufficient reliable information for decision-making. The amended Act will enable prospective learners to make a more conscious choice between different providers of continuing education.

The current version of the Adult Education Act, adopted in 2015, does not require most continuing education institutions to apply for an activity licence. Qualifying institutions are instead permitted to submit a notice of economic activities. The proposed amendments will provide for more efficient supervision of economic activities and, if necessary, the deletion of institutions from the register. This should, in turn, lead to a better balance between the freedom of establishment of continuing education providers and the rights of learners, thus providing improved protection for the learners.

New provisions also include the evaluation of the content of the training provided by continuing education institutions operating with state support. Providers of continuing education passing this form of assessment would be permitted to participate in public procurements and use state budget funds for providing continuing education. An assessment certificate should also significantly improve the perceived reliability of the institution.

Future plans also include creating a public feedback system for continuing education institutions where interested parties can see the results of feedback provided by learners and donors regarding the continuing education institutions.

Another planned amendment to the Act requires continuing education institutions to record the personal data of all participants in a national register. This will provide the foundations for a digital lifelong learning file containing information on all diplomas, certificates, and other documents describing and certifying the person’s knowledge and skills awarded in the course of their life.