Education at a Glance 2020, a collection of education statistics recently published by the OECD, highlights that the Estonian vocational education system stands out for its accessibility to both first-time students and adults looking to add to their skills. In total, 77% of all students aged 25+ at the upper secondary level of study are in vocational education.
Robert Lippin, the Deputy Secretary General of Vocational Education, Adult Education and School Network at the Ministry of Education and Research, says Estonia can be proud of the fact that education at all levels is accessible to everyone in the country. “Students are able to acquire both vocational and higher education completely free of charge,” he explained. “That’s without doubt one of the reasons for the success of lifelong learning, since it means that even the likes of older people with higher education can enrol in vocational school. It’s difficult to overplay the importance of lifelong learning in the world today. It’s the key to success of every single person and the economy as a whole.”
Lippin emphasised that while accessibility is important, it is also vital to increase young people’s interest in vocational education and to reduce the number of dropouts. Vocational secondary education is acquired by more than half of students (54%) within the nominal time, while in general upper secondary education the same indicator is 85%.
In 2018, 40% of all students at the secondary level, i.e. upper secondary, vocational and level 4 vocational training students, were in vocational education, which is comparable to the OECD average (42%). The average age of students in vocational education in Estonia is 24, compared to 18 in general upper secondary education.
In vocational education, the most popular specialties are engineering, production and construction, which 50% of all vocational students study, followed by service curricula, in which 28% of vocational students are enrolled. ICT curricula are more popular in Estonia than in the OECD on average: 12% here compared to 4% in other countries.
Work-based learning is growing in popularity in Estonia, involving 6% of all vocational students at the upper secondary level. However, a comparison of countries shows that there remains a lot of room for improvement in this regard, with the OECD average being 34%.
In 2019, the employment opportunities enjoyed by vocational training graduates aged 25-34 were equal to those of young people with general upper secondary education, which is exceptional in OECD countries.
Whereas the ratio of students to teachers is similar in both vocational and general education at the upper secondary level in OECD countries, in Estonia there are 14 students to every member of teaching staff in general upper secondary education and 18 in vocational education. The percentage of female teachers is higher overall in both vocational and general upper secondary education, but there are more male teachers in vocational education: 40% compared to 23% in general upper secondary education.
Compared to the OECD average, classes in general education are smaller in Estonia. This is considered a strength of the education system, which also became clear during the spring of COVID-19.
Among other things, the OECD has pointed out that as in other OECD countries, investments per student are higher in Estonia in vocational education than they are in general upper secondary education. At the same time, the total investment in the education system per student remains below the OECD average. Estonia is nevertheless moving in the right direction, with funding for education increasing by an average of 2.5% per student from basic to higher education between 2012 and 2017.
Education at a Glance is one of the main and also one of the largest collections of educational statistics available. It is designed to provide countries with an opportunity to compare and contrast the impact of their educational policies. The collection analyses the education systems of 36 OECD member states and partner countries.