The organisation and principles of the education system are established in the Republic of Estonia Education Act and specified in lower level acts structured by type of educational institution.
The structure of the educational system provides opportunities for everyone to move from one level of education to the next. Levels of education comprise preschool education (ISCED level 0), basic education (ISCED levels 1 and 2), upper secondary education ISCED (level 3), which is divided into general upper secondary education and vocational upper secondary education, and higher education (ISCED levels 6, 7 and 8).
The obligation to attend school applies to children who have attained 7 years of age by 1 October of the current year. Before that, children usually acquire preschool education in preschool institutions. The obligation to attend schools lasts until basic education is acquired or until a student attains 17 years of age.
Irrespective of the language of instruction, studies are conducted in Estonian preschool child care institutions, general education schools and vocational schools -- in case of the vocational upper secondary education curricula -- under uniform national curricula, on the basis of which schools compile their own curricula. In case of other types of vocational training, school curricula are prepared on the basis of the Vocational Education Standard and the relevant professional standard. General requirements for higher education studies, curricula and teaching staff are established in the framework document of the Higher Education Standard.
Estonian education system is decentralised. The division of responsibility between state, local government and schools is clearly defined.
Provision of education is supervised by the state. At state level, the Estonian Education Strategy 2021-2035 guides the long-term developments. The national standards (the National Curriculum for Preschool Child Care Institutions, the National Curriculum for Basic Schools, the National Curriculum for Upper Secondary Schools, the national curricula for vocational studies, the Higher Education Standard and the Vocational Education Standard) guarantee the quality provision of education; laws and regulations establish the principles of education funding, state supervision and quality assessment.
Local governments have the obligation to provide every child permanently residing in their catchment area with the possibility to attend a preschool institution and every child in the age of compulsory school attendance with the possibility to study in the school of residence; they maintain preschool child care institutions, basic schools, the majority of upper secondary schools and some of the vocational schools.
The vast majority of preschool childcare institutions and general education schools are municipal schools. Vocational schools are mostly state owned and universities are institutions in public law. Half of institutions of professional higher education are state owned and the other half are institutions in private law. Financing of educational institutions depends on the ownership of the institution.
The data on the Estonian educational system is gathered into the web-based national register EHIS (the Estonian Education Information System). EHIS contains information on educational institutions, students, teaching staff, curricula, rights to conduct study and documents certifying acquisition of education. Statistical data on the areas of activity within the government of the Ministry of Education and Research can be accessed via the education database HaridusSilm, which provides data on preschool, general, vocational and higher education as well as research, language policy, statistics on teachers’ wages and more.