HOME EDUCATION IN ESTONIA

                 Tiia Leis     e-mail: tiia7777@yahoo.co.uk

 

The area of Estonia is 45 227 km². As of 1 January 2005, the total population of Estonia was 1, 347, 510  (Eyricide, 2004, Statistikaamet, 2005). After 50 years of Soviet Union reign, Estonia became independent on the 20 of August in 1991. Similarly with other post-socialist countries and in great contrast with other European states, Estonia is undergoing great change. Change is what characterises the current context – economic, cultural and social, in which education functions (Haridus-ja Teadusministeerium, 2005).

According to the Ministry of Education and Research:

Estonia has had to cope with transition to a democratic form of government… and this has been accompanied by continuous institutional changes, the invasion of market relations into most spheres, and a modification of values. In the centre of these changes has been a transition to an information society, along with higher structural complexity, a more rapid turnover of knowledge and a sudden rise in the risks of failure.”  (Haridusja Teadusministeerium, 2005)

Although the Ministry of Education and Research note that they are working towards a system that is ‘transparent and open for innovation’, the reality perceived through media leaves me doubtful if this can be achieved in the near future (Haridus-ja Teadusministeerium, 2005).

It is interesting and disturbing to note that currently Estonian sources differ considerably and different people interpret even the law in different ways. For example, a source that summarises the law, adds to it by stating that HE is only possible if one leaves too far from the school and is basically unable to attend. However, this requirement is not mentioned in the law (Teabeportaal, 2005).

With the Education Act 1992, Estonian government makes schooling compulsory to children from the age of 7 until they finish secondary school or reach the age of 17 (Elektrooniline Riigiteataja, 1992). The Act also makes clear that compulsory schooling can take place at home if strictly followed by the rules and regulations set by the Estonian Ministry of Education and Research. The Act for home education regulations differentiates between two main reasons why such an option might be considered: either the parent or guardian wishes to home educate, or the child needs to be home educated for medical reasons (Elektrooniline Riigiteataja, 2002).  The government gives clear guidelines about how HE can be practiced. In the following paragraphs I will try and give an overview of the law that is currently being adhered to in Estonia.

 

The parent must write an application to the head teacher of the school where the child is registered at. If agreement with the governing body has been reached, then the school can give permission to HE for one year and makes clear the exact assessment procedures in regards to how frequently the assessment will take place. If agreement with the school is gained then a child who is home educated can take part in some lessons like physical education, art, crafts and music. The class teacher will assess progress, since the child will still be in the class register and the marks will be recorded. If the school is not satisfied with the arrangements and the child seems to fall behind the National Curriculum, then the school has the right to demand that the pupil returns to school.  Teaching one’s child at home will be done at the cost of the parent or guardian. By parental wish, HE is allowed until the child reaches 6th grade (until 12 years of age). There are currently 70 children who are home educated for other than medical reasons (Official request from the Estonian Ministry of Education and Research, 2006. Table 1).

 

Table 1 Types of Estonian home education (1)                                              

 

Academic Year

By parental wish

For medical reasons

Total

2000/2001

44

410

454

2001/2002

41

530

571

2002/2003

36

622

658

2003/2004

55

673

728

2004/2005

50

797

847

2005/2006

70

938

1008

(1) Ministry of Education and Research, every year

on the 10th September.

 

The law is a little different if HE is practiced for medical reasons. In the latter case, the child can be home educated throughout the years of compulsory schooling only if the nearest school fails to provide all the necessary requirements for inclusion. In this case the parent or guardian must make an application to the doctor who will decide if HE is necessary. Then the governing body of the school will make the decision. If the school agrees, the teachers who have been appointed to carry out HE will work out an individual curriculum plan and they will be responsible for educating the child. At the moment there are 931 children home educated for this reason) The school will also have this responsibility if a secondary school child has to be hospitalised for more than 10 days. The hospital and the school must reach an agreement but the doctor decides when the work can start. In the year 2005/2006, 7 children are home schooled in a hospital.

 

Although general public is quite hostile towards HE and do not understand or know much about it, there has been indications of some change. Remi (2002) brings out the growing importance of e-learning and also indicates that this makes HE a more logical choice.  Reading the thoughts of Jakobson (2000) made me see that the invasion of computers into conservative school life is analogous with the way teachers perceive HE. She actually admits that the development and possibilities of ICT made her realise that HE might not be such a horrible thing after all. It seems that new technology made her ‘see’ the logic that is behind home education and she regards it as people would any new phenomenon. At first people are afraid and then discover the advantages and adopt it accordingly. The early signs of tolerance were not widespread and in 2003 the first HE support group was established (Currently, in 2006, there is no such a group any more). Zobel (2003) notes that Estonian teachers are ill informed of the law and are surprised to learn that HE is legal. During the same time Priit Harik, who was the support group’s member of the board, stressed in his article that HE is a possibility not an obligation. He agrees with Zobel  (2003) by admitting that it is incredible that teachers are not informed of the legality of this option and generally act negatively (Harik, 2003).

Overall, the media coverage is minimal and it is hardly surprising that the general public is not aware of the issue. Interestingly the way or manner in which these articles have been written, all show a considerable sensitivity to the context and state of the society. The writers have been very aware of the controversy of the issue and are manoeuvring with words and statements. This, I realise is necessary, since Estonia is truly not ready for HE or even to tolerate or accept that others might wish to do it. In this current state of affairs it is not surprising that requests and propositions voiced by home educating parents, have not achieved much.

 There was a precedent, however, where the parents of home educated child applied to the Ministry of Education and Research to be allowed to home educate through the entire compulsory schooling years, because he was years ahead of his counterparts in school, which made it pointless for him to go back to school (Zobel, 2003).

Other attempts have been made to change the law. In Estonia, schools receive funding on the basis of the number of children in the register. The law requires that home-educated children stay in the register and although the child does not receive teaching from the school, the school is funded as if he or she did. Home educators argue that this money should be used to support HE (Kivisalu, 2003). In 2002, the Union for Parents made an official proposal to the Ministry of Education and Research. They argued that instead of ‘schooling’, ‘education’ should be compulsory and that instead of parents applying to school for HE, they should simply inform the school (Eesti Lastevanemate Liit, 2002).  The replay indicated that it will be dealt with, however, the problem has stayed unsolved.