Estonia: co-constructing the future we need now


This document offers some examples of innovations in education in Estonia. These innovations have to a great extent become an integral part of the education system. At the same time, they continue to co-evolve and be reinterpreted by those taking part in them.

Estonian Ministry of Education and Research, Tartu 2021
See the list of authors and co-authors here.

These innovations have enabled and encouraged stakeholders, in particular teachers, school leaders, academics, social partners and other interested parties in working together and learning from one another in order to improve student learning. They have also supported teachers and school leaders in building their own capacity to lead change in education and take greater responsibility for it. Most importantly, the innovations have had a substantial positive effect on enhancing student agency, learning and well-being.

This sample of innovations is introduced through the following chapters:


The examples were chosen as they:

  • support the achievement of national strategic goals as reflected in the Lifelong Learning Strategy and in its successor strategy Education 2035,
  • have had a substantial impact in the majority or in some cases a large number of general education schools,
  • have helped integrate contemporary approaches to teaching and learning,
  • have been possible due to prior investments into stakeholder cooperation and ongoing education reform efforts.

Ultimately, teachers and school leaders are, or at least should be, the primary agents of educational change. As such, the initiatives described in this publication aim to stimulate both teacher and school leader as well as other stakeholders’ initiative, co-operation and co-agency. This includes stimulating collective and personal reflection and action.

A focus on equity and improvement

Despite being a high performer on PISA (i.e. high levels of student achievement and high degrees of equity), the pervasive feeling among leaders in education in Estonia is that much more can be done to improve the quality of teaching and learning, as well as to enhance the well-being of all students and teachers. This is coupled with a belief in the possibility of a better future, a belief in the value of something that has not yet been achieved.

More concretely, stakeholders contribute to the articulation of that better future. Once widely agreed upon, including by government, mechanisms which are aligned with one another and that support the achievement of that better future, have been initiated. They have received government financing and stakeholder support. Positive changes are challenging to implement but they are possible and are indeed taking place.

As a case in point, the principal stakeholders (i.e. academics, teachers, students, parents, school leaders, and other experts in the field) have worked to articulate what constitutes a contemporary approach to teaching and learning. All of the initiatives in this publication are part of the implementation of that approach. All seek to engage, none seek to impose.

The model situates education and above all individual student learning into a broader context both in the here and now, and in the future (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. A contemporary approach to teaching and learning

The individual learner’s development is at the core of the model. The entire school culture needs to support individual student learning. This is only possible if teachers and school leaders continue to learn and grow. This growth is reflected in enhanced cognitive, emotional, physical and social learning environments. These enhancements are partly dependent on a school culture focussed on learning that is improved through the use of contemporary evidence-based high-impact approaches to learning.

Although the school culture is an act of co-construction, the school itself must operate within the broader societal context and be able to help address newly emerging real-world challenges and demands. In the here and now, students need support in achieving core objectives tied to subject knowledge (i.e. knowledge, skills, attitudes and values). Students need to develop a wide range of learning skills, including collaborative and self-regulation skills. Ultimately, education must lead students to a sense of well-being. Those learning objectives are meant to serve the long-term goal of students becoming open and fulfilled lifelong learners who are able to create new value for themselves and others.

As assessment is often said to drive learning, the next chapter speaks of how Estonia is working to help students, teachers, school leaders and parents harness assessment first and foremost as a tool for learning.


Peeter Mehisto, University College London Institute of Education; Maie Kitsing, Estonian Ministry of Education and Research

Co-authors: Pille Kõiv, Estonian Ministry of Education and Research; Merike KullLeene KorpKärt Leppik and Mari-Liis Nummert, University of Tartu; Katrin KivisildKerli PožoginaAimi PüüaKeiu Tamm, Education and Youth Board of Estonia

Concept author: Pille Liblik, Estonian Ministry of Education and Research

Tartu 2021

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