The Ministry of Education and Research coordinates the general organisation of the sphere of adult education in Estonia. The Ministry of Social Affairs together with the public law institution Töötukassa (Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund) are responsible for the training of unemployed and jobseekers. All ministries participate, to a smaller or greater extent, in human resource development in their administrative field (e.g., the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Agriculture, etc.). Local municipalities are relatively disunited and their size and administrative capacity very different and for these reasons their contribution to offering adult education is very uneven.
In Estonia, adult education is generally categorised as follows:
- formal training of adults;
- professional education and training;
- non-formal education.
Formal education for adults provides the opportunity to:
- acquire basic education and general upper secondary education in the form of non-stationary study or as an external student;
- undergo vocational training in the form of non-stationary studies. Vocational educational institutions offer several flexible opportunities to adults to participate in vocational training both after the acquisition of basic education and upper secondary education but also for people without basic education;
- acquire higher education in part-time study or as an external student.
Professional education and training provides the opportunity to acquire and develop professional, vocational or specialised knowledge, skills and experiences and retraining at the place of employment or at an educational institution. Professional education and training is carried out as courses of a varying duration and passing a course does not automatically lead to the next level of education.
Completion of professional education and training is certified with a certificate.
Non-formal education provides the opportunity to develop one's personality, creativity, talents, initiative and a sense of social responsibility and to accumulate the knowledge, skills and abilities needed in life as well as to develop the key competencies for lifelong learning. Study is carried out in the form of courses but it is also possible to participate in study groups and summer schools. Similarly to professional education and training, non-formal education does not lead automatically to a higher educational level.
Until the end of 2013, the general objectives of the sphere of adult education were stipulated in the Development plan for Estonian adult education (2009–2013) approved by the Government of the Republic.
The general objectives of the development plan were as follows:
- to enable adults better access both to formal education and non-formal education in order to improve the knowledge of people and the level of education of the population and to increase the percentage of people aged 25-64 participating in lifelong learning to 13.5% by 2013. The respective indicator for 2008 was 9.8% and for 2013, as high as 12.5% by 2013;
- to decrease the proportion of people aged 25-64 with general education (general upper secondary education, basic education or a lower level of education) and those without professional or vocational education to 32% of adult population. The respective indicator for 2008 was 34.6%, for 2013, 29.6%;
- to enable adults to obtain a one level higher level of education or qualification through high-quality education, thereby increasing the proportion of people with levels from IV to VIII of the qualification framework to 48% of people aged 25-64 years. In 2008, the respective indicator was 41%, in 2013, 45.2%.
In 2014, the government approved “the Estonian Lifelong Learning Strategy 2020”, which provides a basis for developing a new adult education programme.
The sphere of adult education is regulated by a number of legislative acts.
The Adult Education Act (1993) provides the basis for adult education and the legal guarantees, the definition of adult education institutions, the terms of provision of learning opportunities, classification of adult education depending on its objectives, and regulates the financing of adult education. The provisions of the Adult Education Act mainly apply to people who study in non-stationary, part-time or evening study or distance learning, as an external student or who participate in work-related and non-formal education.
The Adult Education Act also regulates the possibilities to apply for study leave. It is possible to receive study leave with regard to studying in formal education, professional education and training and non-formal education. In order to participate in training, employees and civil servants have the right to receive 30 calendar days of study leave in one year from their employer. In case of formal and professional education and training, an employer must pay an employee or civil servant their average salary for 20 calendar days. For people participating in non-formal education, there is no such obligation. For graduation from formal education, an employer must grant an employee the opportunity to receive 15 additional days of study leave with minimum salary established at national level, if the employee so wishes.
According to the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act (2010), adults have the possibility to study in an upper secondary school for adults or in a respective department of a day-time study upper secondary school in non-stationary form of study or graduate from basic school or upper secondary school as an external student.
The Vocational Educational Institutions Act (2013) regulates the offering of formal education and organisation of professional education and training. Formal training may be carried out either in stationary or non-stationary form of study.
The Universities Act (1995) and the Institutions of Professional Higher Education Act (1998) govern, among other things, studying in full-time and part-time study and as external student as well as organization of professional education and training.
The Private Schools Act (1998) governs the establishment and activity of private schools, including the operating of private educational institutions offering non-formal education.
The standard of vocational education (2013) and the standard of higher education (2008) govern, among other things, acknowledgement of prior studies and professional experience in vocational and higher education. In graduation from vocational education, a previously passed vocational examination may be accounted for as a vocational or specialized final examination.
Based on legal acts in force, educational institutions have the responsibility to establish a more detailed regulation for their institution as regards acknowledgement of prior studies and professional experience.
The Labour Market Services and Benefits Act (2005) belonging to the area of responsibility of the Ministry of Social Affairs regulates keeping track of unemployed people and job seekers, offering of labour market services (including labour market training) and paying of labour market benefits.
The Professions Act (2008) establishes the foundations of establishing, functioning and supervising of the professional qualifications system.
According to the Income Tax Act (1999), people have the right to deduct the training costs paid by them from their taxable income
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Please note that the new Adult Education Act in Estonia will be in force since 01.07.2015