Estonia to raise compulsory education age to 18

According to the Estonian education and research ministry, the government is preparing to increase the age of compulsory education to 18 years of age or until the acquisition of vocational education.

The ministry points out that 654 elementary school graduates did not continue their education in the fall of 2022. In Estonia, there are 11 per cent of young people aged 18-24 with a low level of education who do not study. Studies confirm people without professional training are in a weaker position on the labour market. It is also known that the extension of compulsory schooling primarily supports young people with weaker academic results.

In the context of raising the age of compulsory education, the ministry is talking about being engaged in education up to the age of 18, regardless of the type of education. Currently, compulsory schooling is valid until the acquisition of elementary school education or until the age of 17 and the main purpose of compulsory schooling is to ensure that everyone acquires basic education.

A career information and counselling system

For elementary school graduates to choose a study path that matches their abilities, interests and talents, a career information and counselling system has been created with the support of the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund. The role of career education in elementary school is also growing.

A group of young vocational education students in Estonia; photo by Erlend Štaub.

To find a suitable study path for each learner, effective prevention and intervention work and monitoring both at the local government level and nationwide are necessary, according to the ministry. As a first step, the plan is to bring the final exams of basic school forward so that the results can be used for admission to the next level.

The ministry is changing the procedure for graduating from elementary school so that, in the spring of 2024, the elementary school final exams will take place before the entrance exams for high schools. In this way, high schools can also take into account the results of the basic school final exams in enrolling and the whole process becomes shorter and less stressful for students.

Baseless applying to as many schools as possible will decrease. It is hoped that clearer frameworks for the admission process help young people, parents and schools to better understand their role and tasks and take a clear step towards creating a learner-centred process.

There is currently no uniform regulation that directs admission to the secondary education level to be organised after the student has passed the elementary school final exams. Schools are autonomous in planning their admissions process, admissions often start in early spring, and many tests duplicate each other in content. However, long-term exam stress has a significant impact on the mental health of young people.

Transition to e-exams

At the same time, the education ministry is preparing the transition to e-exams at the end of basic school and will organise trial exams.

According to the ministry, the transition to e-exams and the use of digital assessment tools will help support the shaping of a personalised learning path and collect data on the development of learners. The implementation of e-exams also improves and harmonises the quality of evaluation of exam papers.

Schoolchildren at an Estonian school. Photo by Aivo Kallas.

During the 2024/2025 academic year, the elementary school final exams in the Estonian language, English language and Estonian language as a second language at the B1 and B2 level will be held electronically. The exams will be conducted in the test database and then there will be no parallel exam on paper. For a smooth transition, trial exams will be during the upcoming academic year so that schools, teachers and students can get the experience of taking e-exams.

The transition to e-exams is co-financed by the European Union.

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