The Riigikogu discussed the situation and development trends of vocational training as a matter of national importance.
The Chairman of the Cultural Affairs Committee Aadu Must said that Estonia must increase its investments into education to ensure sustainability. “Our national treasure is the intellectual abilities and skills of our children. If we fail to develop these, we will undermine Estonia’s sustainability,” Must said.
Must listed a number of problems in vocational education that the Cultural Affairs Committee had found through discussions with representatives of vocational schools, ministries, authorities, and businesses. These included the unpopularity of vocational education, hurdles between vocational education and future employers, and syllabuses bearing no relevance to current needs. Must was also sad to point out that graduates of teacher training shunned work in vocational schools, and that there were no benefits for employers in sponsoring vocational schools.
Must stressed that the goal of the Committee was not to find someone to blame. “Our task was to see if there were aspects where the law is lagging behind, where it creates obstacles, and where the legislator should do a better job. We found a whole host of such problems,” said Must, adding that the Cultural Affairs Committee planned to launch a discussion on the reform of vocational education, and formulate proposals to the Government of the Republic for solving these.
The Minister of Education and Research Mailis Reps spoke of the massive changes implemented in the vocational schools and vocational education. While in 1997 Estonia had 90 vocational education institutions, this number has now dropped to 33. The total number of students in vocational education is 25,000, and nearly 50 per cent of them are adults. “At the same time, we have to admit that the percentage of basic school graduates who enrol in vocational schools has not increased over the years,” Reps said.
“Analyses and recommendations by OSKA indicate that we are doing many things correctly in vocational education. We are developing career counselling, training vocational teachers, and supporting their internships in businesses, developing apprenticeship, and digital and business studies,” Reps said.
Reps believes that in the near future it is important to change the financing model in a way that would take into account the efforts of schools in achieving good results in education, but would also ensure a sufficient basic funding, which would give the schools the necessary stability and would allow them to support students with special needs more than before. “We need to start looking for solutions for technology centres, and reduce the unnecessary red tape surrounding our schools. We need to sieve through the conclusions of OSKA to determine the actual needs for developing education, and to change its structure where needed,” Reps said. “We need to increase our support to students, and reduce the number of people who drop out of the education system too early for any number of reasons. And, most importantly, we need to be open and positive regarding every school and teacher in Estonia, and every educational opportunity,” Reps added.
CEO of AS Standard Mr Enn Veskimägi made three proposals to improve vocational education on behalf of the Estonian Employers’ Confederation, and the Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Firstly, to exempt apprenticeship training from social tax because the financing of the health insurance of a vocational student falls on the state. Secondly, to make the financing model of vocational schools performance-based. Experts of the field estimate that the current financing model is not sufficiently motivational for schools to invest in the quality of education. Thirdly, the quality of professional exams must be maintained.
“Granting a professional certificate must be an unbiased process, based on an assessment of the conformity of the skills with the requirements of the labour market. We believe that the organisers of professional exams must be found through competitions, and that the state should not set the examination fee,” Veskimägi said.
Tarmo Loodus, Chairman of Management Board Estonian Association for Advancement of Vocational Education, proposed that the legislation should obligate every individual to acquire a profession by 25 years of age, in order to improve the quality of the labour force and to reduce the number of unqualified workers. He sees vocational education as an efficient instrument of regional policy, and a component of security in peripheral counties.
Loodus also proposed that the future teachers should be sent to vocational schools for practical training so they could see how modern vocational training works. He also thinks that basic school aged children with special needs should be educated in special schools.
“To give added value to the basic school diploma, it is important to stop grading the state exams at the end of the basic school, and instead use the same approach as with the graduation from the gymnasium,” Loodus said. “Entrance exams to a gymnasium or a vocational school should suffice in filtering students.”
Heljo Pikhof spoke on behalf of the Social Democrat Party faction, stressing the need to strengthen the support systems of vocational schools, the organisation of internships, and improving the reputation of vocational education.
Heidy Purga spoke on behalf of the Reform Party faction, recounting how the Cultural Affairs Committee had reached the conclusion that one of the major pitfalls of vocational education was its lack of integrity, and its fragmentation between a number of institutions.
Viktoria Ladõnskaja spoke on behalf of the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union faction, stressing the need to improve the reputation of vocational education, and to prepare for the shift to the Estonian language teaching in Russian language vocational schools.
Toomas Väinaste spoke on behalf of the Centre Party faction, stressing that vocational education is one of the pillars of business, and that discussions on various questions of vocational training must be continued, with particular emphasis on students with special needs.
Krista Aru spoke on behalf of the Free Party faction, calling vocational education part of the natural educational path. Aru hopes that the Ministry of Education and Research comes out with an initiative to end the fragmentation of vocational education institutions. Aru does not see the reputation of vocational education as a big problem, because this is just a social attitude, and these are always notoriously difficult to change. Instead, the content of the vocational education should be developed.
Monika Haukanõmm focused on students with educational special needs, more particularly regarding inclusive education, scholarships, and physical accessibility of educational institutions.
Jürgen Ligi sees the key in breaking down barriers between general and vocational education.
Laine Randjärv focused on the training of musicians in vocational schools.
Video recordings of the sittings of the Riigikogu can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/riigikogu
(Please note that the recording will be uploaded with a delay.)
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