General Background History on Estonia

The Republic of Estonia is located on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea, just south of Finland, west of Russia and north of Latvia. Slightly larger than Switzerland, Estonia has a population of about 1.5 million, with a significant Russian minority. A low-lying country with a gently rolling landscape, Estonia’s principal natural resources include peat, amber, oil shale and timber. The area has many rivers and lakes and approximately 40% of the land is still forested. Despite traditionally close ties to Finland, Estonia has been subject to foreign rule – German, Polish or Russian – since the 13th century. Independence was won in 1920 in the aftermath of WWI; however, by 1940, Russia and Germany were again taking turns occupying this strategically located country.

After WWII Estonia was incorporated into the Soviet Union, and a large influx of Russian immigrants contributed to the development of Soviet-style industrialization. One of the three Baltic States (with Latvia and Lithuania) that became independent from the former Soviet Union in 1991, Estonia is now a democratic parliamentary republic, and held its first elections under a new constitution in 1992. Estonia is currently in the process of moving from a planned economy to a free-market economy. The food-production and clothing industries are the fastest growing sectors of an economy in which unemployment is relatively low. While there have been some difficult economic times during the transition, Estonians are carefully examining options and alternatives for the economic, social and political future of their country.

The “Estonian Education Scenarios 2015” have been compiled to facilitate a national discussion on the future of education and to invite public support for a long-term education strategy. These Scenarios are being reviewed by the Estonian President, Prime Minister and the Speaker of the Parliament, among others.

It must be noted however that this is not an official document of “The Estonian Forum ’98 of Education.” This is a draft, and this English version has been edited by the 21st Century Learning Initiative.

Education from the viewpoint of current trends in Estonian society

Currently, learning and teaching are seen as activities carried out by professionals who change people through providing them with new knowledge, skills, values, etc. Various forms of social recognition such as certificates and diplomas reward successful acquisition of prescribed curricula. Such rewards enable individuals to find their places in the social and economic structure of society.

Education is delivered, from pre-school through university, according to recognized syllabi and institutional requirements. The system is well-organized and structured and, consequently, education is highly institutionalized. However, not all learning is confined to schools. It takes place in homes, in electronic environments, and through various organizations and associations. When discussing education, therefore, we must also consider the mass media, advertising and other informal means and what impact they have on learning and education.

The following scenarios were developed with the understanding that, in order to have a learning society, it is necessary to create a level of agreement and cooperation between society at large and institutions of learning. In developing the education scenarios we considered the viewpoints of the different generations and ethnic groups that make up Estonia. We also considered insights from research in psychology, pedagogy, neuroscience, philosophy, economics and other research areas that influence learning and teaching. From these many considerations we have designed four scenarios describing what education in Estonia might look like in 2015.

Key factors of the Estonian education scenarios 2015

The “Estonian Education Scenarios 2015” have been developed by considering the combined influences of two key factors which determine the nature of Estonian society. These are: 1) the cohesiveness of the society – its integration and, 2) the innovative capabilities of the society – the quality and intensity of social striving.

  1. The cohesiveness of a society is determined by whether it works to unite or disunite different people and groups.
    • A disunited society is strongly polarized and is based on Corporatism where the super-successful are antagonistic towards the stragglers and “everyone dies on their own.” Interpersonal relations are highly competitive and political power is perceived as remote. The level of trust within society is low and officials are perceived as opposed to the wishes of people. Society as a whole is characterized by political passivity and civic initiatives do not play a significant role in the organization of social affairs.
    • A united society, in contrast, is highly coherent and possesses a strong middle stratum, the proportion of stragglers is comparatively low, and the top echelons do not oppose the interests of the majority. Cooperation and learning between groups thrive. Different viewpoints and positions are respected at both the personal and group levels. Power is seen to reside locally. A common Estonian identity is accepted by all citizens. Non-Estonians have been integrated and new immigrants adopt an Estonian identity. The public sector is efficient, transparent, and controlled by citizens. There is a high level of trust among individuals, organizations, and the state. NGOs (non-governmental organizations) are well-rooted and civic organizations play a significant role in the regulation of social life. All citizens accept and respect democratic mechanisms for decision-making.
  2. A society’s ability to be innovative is characterized by high levels of creativity and striving for success exhibited by its citizens – whether they are oriented towards the implementation of new ideas, technologies, skills or the maximum use of global opportunities.
    • The development of a highly innovative society is accompanied by a rapid influx and distribution of high-level innovations and a conscious favoring of experimentation. Highly innovative societies develop revolutionary inventions and have many people motivated to learn continuously. Citizens are personally motivated, self-confident and possess a strong business ethic. An ethic of excellence and success prevails. In the Estonian context “Test Site Estonia” and “Pathfinder Estonia” have become trademarks. (These are national trademarks in which the international community recognizes Estonia’s willingness to innovate and to lead the world in positive change.)
    • A society with low levels of innovation is dominated by economic “realism” and narrow utilitarianism. Self-confidence and creativity are lacking and the nation compares itself to less developed parts of the world. There is a tendency to avoid problems and very few people are willing to take risks. Xenophobia is rampant and a general distrust of things, people and ideas, new and foreign is widespread. There is little (self)-criticism and an orientation towards the past predominates. Experimentation is left to others and only solutions already proven elsewhere are adopted.

In light of these basic factors we can develop four models of future Estonian society and their corresponding education scenarios (Figure 1 (Four visions of Estonia’s education in 2015) – opens in new browser window). The ongoing globalization and openness observed in today’s world are assumed to continue in all the scenarios. In the real-world future a combination of the various scenarios may well emerge rather than simply one or the other.