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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Teaching and learning in single-structure education


5.Single-structure primary and lower secondary education

5.2Teaching and learning in single-structure education

Last update: 27 November 2023

Curriculum, Subjects, Number of Hours

The standard for basic education is established by the national curriculum for basic schools that has been applied in all basic schools of the Republic of Estonia since 2011 and that was revised in 2014. 

The national curriculum is a framework on the basis of which every school draws up its curriculum. A school curriculum is the underlying document for planning and organising teaching and education in the school. Schools have decision-making powers in applying the curriculum and organising teaching and education.

At the core of the national curriculum are general competencies, the development of which must be supported by the entire learning process. These include:

  • cultural and value competences;
  • social and civic competences;
  • competency for self-determination;
  • learning competence;
  • communicative competence;
  • mathematical, natural science and technological competences;
  • entrepreneurship competence and
  • digital competence.

In addition to teaching and learning objectives of subject areas, the development of general competencies is supported also by integration of subjects and use of cross-curricular topics.

The emphasis has shifted from teaching to learning, supported by formative assessment or an assessment which supports learning and development of a student. It is considered important that organisation of studies was based on the health and abilities of students and that the applied methodology was based on the individual characteristics of students. In addition to physical study environment, the curriculum stresses also the important role of the social and mental study environment in the development of students. Teachers and schools have been allowed sufficient flexibility to organise teaching and learning based on a student-centred approach and taking into account the specific characteristics of the school and its resources.

The national curriculum presents a list of compulsory subjects and the number of lessons per week for each stage of study (see Table). Each stage of study has a certain number of lessons in a week that are used on the basis of a decision of the school, e.g., teaching elective subjects or providing extended study of a compulsory subject with a higher number of lessons. Due to compulsory Estonian language lessons, schools with the language of instruction other than Estonian have a smaller number of elective subjects than Estonian-medium schools.

A more detailed use of classes of elective subjects is specified in the curriculum of the school.


Stage I

(Grades 1-3)

Stage II

(Grades 4-6)

Stage III

(Grades 7-9)

Estonian (Russian or other language of instruction) 19 11 6
Literature   4 6
Estonian as a second language* 6* 12* 12*
Foreign language A 3 9 9
Foreign language B**   3** 9**
Mathematics 10 13 13
Natural science 3 7 2
Geography     5
Biology     5
Chemistry     4
Physics     4
History   3 6
Personal, social and health education 2 2 2
Civics and citizenship education   1 2
Music 6 4 3
Art 4,5 3 3
Physical education 8 8 6
Manual training, handicraft and home economics, technology studies 4,5 5 5
Elective subjects 8/2* 10/1* 4/1*

Comments:  *only in schools with the language of instruction other than Estonian; ** not compulsory for students who study Estonian as second language

With the approval of the board of trustees, a school may amend the list of compulsory subjects and cross-curricular topics (including combine and redesign subjects) and the schedule with a view to taking account of the unique characteristics of the school and regional characteristics and organising preliminary vocational training or vocational training or using elective courses and integrated subject and language studies (including language immersion) in schools where the language of instruction is not Estonian, provided that the general competencies, the learning outcomes and the goals of teaching and learning specified in the national curriculum are achieved by the students of the school upon completion of the stages of study. These changes are described in the school’s curriculum and the parents of the students are informed thereof.

Foreign language studies begin at stage I with the study of foreign language A. The study of foreign language B begins at stage II. English, French, German or Russian are studied as foreign language A and B. Also other foreign languages may be studied as foreign language B. A and B foreign languages are chosen by the school, bearing in mind the school’s possibilities and students’ wishes. By the end of basic school, students must acquire foreign language A at the level from B1.1 to B1.2 and foreign language B at the level from A2.2 to B1.1.

At a school where the language of instruction is other than Estonian, Estonian is learned as a second language from the first grade. A student whose native language is not Estonian but who attends a school where Estonian is the language of instruction can also study Estonian as a second language. By the end of basic school, Estonian is acquired as a second language at the level from B1.1 to B2.1. For students who study Estonian as a second language, foreign language B is not compulsory.

Students whose mother tongue is not the language of instruction of the school are provided with the opportunity to learn their mother tongue and to learn about their national culture. Schools are obliged to organise language and culture studies in the amount of at least two lessons per week as elective subjects if at least ten students with the same mother tongue have expressed such desire.

In addition to compulsory subjects, the national curriculum also determines eight cross-curricular themes that are treated in teaching and learning activities:

  • lifelong learning and career planning;
  • environment and sustainable development;
  • civil initiative and entrepreneurship;
  • cultural identity;
  • information environment;
  • technology and innovation;
  • health and safety;
  • values and morale.

Religious education is non-confessional and learning it is voluntary, but a school has an obligation to deliver religious education according to the syllabus included in the national curriculum.

Teaching Methods and Materials

Teaching and learning may be organised in different ways: all subjects are taught over the entire school year or subject teaching is concentrated on a certain study period; the general study periods may be used where teaching concentrates on certain themes and traditional subject lessons are not distinguished; studies that combine general and subject teaching, or in case of older students, subject study periods may also be used. Study may also be organised outside classrooms (in the school garden, in nature, museums, archives, environmental education centres, enterprises and organisations and in the virtual environment).

Teachers may freely choose between the methods they use for achievement of learning objectives and for development of required general competencies. 

According to the national curriculum, it is obligatory to do the following in planning and carrying out teaching:

  • take account of the particularities of a student’s perceptive and thinking processes, abilities, linguistic, cultural and family background, age, gender, health situation, interest and experience;
  • make certain that a student’s work load corresponds to the student’s age and abilities, allowing him or her time for rest and hobby activities;
  • offer students diverse experiences from various cultural fields;
  • use knowledge and skills in actual situations; do research and link knowledge received in various fields to everyday life;
  • create opportunities for studying and coping in various social relationships (student-teacher, student-student);
  • use modern and diverse teaching methods, manners and aids (including oral and written texts, audio and visual study aids, computers, active study methods, study visits, outdoor and museum study, etc.);
  • use relevant assessment aids, manners and methods;
  • use differentiated study tasks the content and level of difficulty of which allow students to study with an appropriate effort, whereas taking everyone’s individuality into account.

In order to ensure and support the completion of the curriculum, schools shall use required learning materials. The requirements established for educational literature, the minimum requirements established for reviewing and reviewers of educational literature and the types of the minimum educational literature ensured by the state per grade and subject will be established by the minister responsible for the field.

Schools are free to choose the educational literature and learning materials (textbooks, exercise-books, workbooks and other teaching aids, incl. digital) required for completion of the school curriculum.

Every year, owners of schools receive support from the state budget for purchase of relevant textbooks, workbooks and teaching materials. During basic school, learning materials are free of charge for students.

The Ministry of Social Affairs has developed health care requirements for daily schedules of schools and organisation of study, treating, among other things, compilation of daily schedules in schools and assigning of homework. In grade 1, homework is generally not assigned and homework is also not assigned for the day after a holiday and the first day of an academic quarter.

Legislative References

National curriculum for basic schools

Health protection requirements for school timetables and organization of study

Conditions and procedure for language and culture teaching