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At today’s sitting of the Riigikogu, the matter of significant national importance “New generations of teachers and valuing of teacher’s profession as a mainstay of Estonia’s sustainability as a country” was discussed at the initiative of the Cultural Affairs Committee.

Chairman of the Cultural Affairs Committee Aadu Must said that, during the committee discussions, it had become clear there was no aspect of the education sector that did not also concern teachers, new generations of teachers and their profession certainty.

Must said that teachers’ remunerations were a very serious issue where progress had indeed been made step-by-step but, despite that, the issue remained topical. He referred to the general opinion that teachers’ salary should not be the Estonian average salary but at least 1.2 times the average. In his words, it is also sensible, expedient and obligatory to remunerate additional assignments.

Among the many aspects, Must said, the issue of a fair proportion between the teacher’s work effort and professionalism had arisen in the committee discussions. In his words, not only teachers’ working conditions but also conditions for continuous development are important.

In conclusion, Must said that Estonia needed a wide-ranging, serious, well-considered and professional education reform. “If the Riigikogu reaches the same conclusion, thereby we will lay a solid foundation stone to Estonia’s sustainability as a country because without very good education we will make no progress in other areas,” Must said. “The education reform is of course not only a matter of the organisation of schools but indeed one of content.”

Liis Reier, history and civics teacher at Tallinn French School and coordinator of the studies of pupils with special educational needs, pointed out in her report that Estonian education ranked first in Europe and third in the world, but Estonia spent 30 per cent less than the average of OECD countries on education. “The issue at present is that if we wish to maintain the level we have we will need to begin to do something very soon,” Reier said.

She noted that around a third of the teachers who were working at Estonian schools were unqualified. Around 1000 teachers have secondary education and 10 or 15 have no more than basic education.

Reier said that the valuing of teacher’s profession and new generations of teachers were absolutely and inseparably interlinked issues. “The sustainability of Estonian education will depend on how the currently working teachers value their profession,” Reier said. In her words, it is worrying that young people see no prospects in teacher’s profession. “In young people’s opinion, teacher’s work is not remunerated equivalently to jobs requiring equivalent education and equivalent competences. They see that, in order to take up this job, they will need to work so hard and to make so much effort, they will need to study very much and they will need to have very special personal qualities in order to do well in this job,” Reier specified.

When speaking of the relationship between workload and remuneration, Reier said that, as a result of supporting of the principles of inclusive education and individual study paths as well as the implementation of digital learning, new tasks were emerging constantly. “Often the problem is not only the workload related to lessons but the teacher’s workload increases in connection with other obligations that remain outside the lessons,” she said.

In conclusion, Reier said that the state budget definitely needed to have more funds to remunerate education workers and to organise in-service training. In her words, the teacher’s career model and responsibilities will need to be better regulated. More workforce is needed in school because special education teachers, social pedagogues and speech therapists are unable to fulfil all the duties that teachers should actually accomplish in one-on-one communication with students. In Reier’s words, this is a matter of choice. “If we cannot afford to pay for the work, the responsibilities assigned to schools will need to be significantly reduced and we will have to identify the aspects we can abandon,” Reier said.

Professor Margus Pedaste, Head of Pedagogicum at the University of Tartu, said that new generations of teachers and the valuing of teacher’s profession was a mainstay of Estonia’s sustainability as a country. “New generations of teachers will indeed largely depend on schools and on society more widely, our attitude and example, and the valuing of teacher’s profession,” Pedaste said.

He proposed to implement career model in teacher’s profession and to link it up with the salary policy. He also suggested that teachers should also have the opportunity to take a semester off for self-improvement and development or research. “If teachers have a development opportunity and challenges, their students will also be more motivated to become teachers,” Pedaste said.

Pedaste overturned the myth that there was a lack of interest in the admission to teacher training in universities. In his words, in Estonia, there is a much greater need for teachers than for representatives of any other profession taught at universities. “Should the Riigikogu find that more teachers are needed, universities will be ready to train more teachers, provided that the necessary budget will also be allocated for this,” Pedaste promised. He also emphasised the importance of the scholarship in the speciality of teacher training which should be awarded to at least 50 per cent of students and which should be at least 500 euro per month instead of the current 160 euro.

If we wish our teachers to work in school for longer, in Pedaste’s words, three bases should be relied on: teachers managing successfully, completion of teacher training and the availability of development opportunities.

Minister of Education and Research Mailis Reps said that teachers and the quality of their work in supporting every student were largely instrumental to the quality of education as a whole and, by extension, to the student’s wellbeing and later life – to the future of the whole country.

When speaking of teacher’s working hours, Reps said that, in Estonia, a teacher’s average working hours significantly exceeded 40 hours per week in teachers’ estimation. “The situation is constant and this is indeed worrying,” the minister said. She admitted that, in order to prevent burnout and to ensure high-quality teaching, it was necessary to ensure that teachers’ actual working hours were better regulated.

Reps said that if teacher’s career model were to be implemented, the remuneration issue needed to be made significantly more transparent in it. The minister said that teachers’ salary continued to be important. She admitted that, unfortunately, salaries were not going to rise in the public sector this year but it was a question of perspective and, when discussing the budget strategy next spring, the Government would have to consider how to give teachers an assurance of a perspective.

The minister also pointed out the Education Development Plan 2021–2035, which emphasised the supporting of heads of school. The development plan also highlights that we will need to continue the municipal education workers’ training programme because an inefficient education worker in a municipality is also very demotivating.

Reps said that, besides teachers’ minimum salary, it was necessary to review the qualification rules and the career model and to admit honestly that it was time to reintroduce salary grades.

During the debate, Priit Sibul (Isamaa), Heidy Purga (Reform Party), Marko Šorin (Centre Party), Helle-Moonika Helme (Estonian Conservative People’s Party) and Katri Raik (Social Democratic Party) took the floor as representatives of their factions. Siim Kallas (Reform Party) also made a speech. The speakers pointed out various aspects concerning teacher’s profession and new generations of teachers.

Verbatim record of the sitting (in Estonian)

The video recording of the sitting is available to watch on-demand on the Riigikogu YouTube channel.
(Please note that the recording will be uploaded with a delay.)

Riigikogu Press Service
Epp-Mare Kukemelk
+372 631 6356; +372 515 3903
Questions: press@riigikogu.ee