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Expat Exchange - Educational System in Estonia
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Educational System in Estonia

By Betsy Burlingame

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Summary: The one tip that you hear expats living in Estonia repeatedly sharing with newcomers is not to buy a home when you first move to Estonia. Rent for a few months or longer so that you have time to find the right neighborhood. Give yourself time to ensure that Estonia is right for you for the long term. If you've already taken time to do those things and are ready to take the plunge and become a property owner, here are tips about buying a home in Estonia.

Estonia, a small country in Northern Europe, is known for its high-quality education system. The country consistently ranks among the top in international education assessments, such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). The Estonian education system is divided into several stages, each designed to cater to the different developmental needs of students. This guide aims to provide expats with a comprehensive understanding of the educational system in Estonia, including the main stages of education, enrollment procedures, language requirements, and options for public, private, bilingual, and homeschooling.

What are the main stages of education in Estonia?

The Estonian education system is divided into four main stages: pre-school education, basic education, secondary education, and higher education. Pre-school education is for children aged 1.5 to 7 years old, basic education is for students aged 7 to 16, secondary education is for students aged 16 to 19, and higher education is for students aged 19 and above.

Pre-school Education in Estonia

Pre-school education in Estonia is not mandatory but is highly recommended. It focuses on the overall development of children, including their social, emotional, and cognitive skills. Pre-schools in Estonia are either public or private, with the majority of children attending public pre-schools. The language of instruction is usually Estonian, but there are also Russian-speaking and bilingual pre-schools available.

Basic Education in Estonia

Basic education in Estonia is compulsory and lasts for nine years, typically from ages 7 to 16. It is divided into three stages: grades 1-3, grades 4-6, and grades 7-9. The curriculum includes subjects like Estonian language, mathematics, natural and social sciences, art, music, and physical education. Schools also offer optional subjects and extracurricular activities.

Secondary Education in Estonia

Secondary education in Estonia is optional and lasts for three years, typically from ages 16 to 19. Students can choose between general secondary education, which prepares them for higher education, and vocational secondary education, which provides them with specific job skills. Both types of secondary education conclude with a state examination.

Higher Education in Estonia

Higher education in Estonia is provided by universities and professional higher education institutions. It is divided into three cycles: bachelor's, master's, and doctoral studies. The language of instruction is usually Estonian, but many institutions offer programs in English as well.

How does a newcomer from a different country enroll their kids in school?

Newcomers can enroll their children in Estonian schools by submitting an application to the school of their choice. The application should include the child's birth certificate, a document proving the child's residence in Estonia, and a health certificate. If the child has previously attended school in another country, a certificate of completed education or a transcript of grades should also be provided.

My children are still learning Estonian, can they enroll in a public school?

Yes, children who are still learning Estonian can enroll in public schools. These schools provide support for non-Estonian speaking students, including Estonian language classes and bilingual education. Some schools also offer a preparatory year to help students improve their Estonian language skills before they start regular classes.

Are there public bilingual schools?

Yes, there are public bilingual schools in Estonia. These schools offer instruction in both Estonian and another language, usually Russian or English. Bilingual schools are a good option for expat families who want their children to maintain their mother tongue while also learning Estonian.

What types of private schools are common in Estonia?

Private schools in Estonia offer a variety of educational approaches, including Montessori, Waldorf, and International Baccalaureate (IB). There are also religious schools, such as Catholic and Lutheran schools, and language schools, such as English, French, and German schools. Private schools usually have smaller class sizes and more individualized instruction than public schools.

Do expats typically send their children to public or private school?

Expats in Estonia choose both public and private schools for their children, depending on their personal preferences and financial situation. Some expats prefer public schools because they are free and offer a good quality of education. Others prefer private schools because they offer more individualized instruction and often have a more international environment.

How expensive are Private schools in Estonia?

The cost of private schools in Estonia varies greatly, depending on the school and the specific program. Tuition fees can range from a few hundred to several thousand euros per year. Some private schools also offer scholarships and financial aid to help families with the cost.

Are you allowed to homeschool while living in Estonia?

Yes, homeschooling is allowed in Estonia. Parents who choose to homeschool their children must follow the national curriculum and ensure that their children achieve the same learning outcomes as students in regular schools. Homeschooled children also have to take the same state examinations as other students.

May kids attend online school instead of a local school while living in Estonia?

Yes, children can attend online school while living in Estonia. The country has a well-developed e-learning infrastructure, and many schools offer online classes. However, online schooling should not replace regular schooling completely, and children should still have opportunities for social interaction and physical activity.

About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder and President of Expat Exchange and is one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Prior to Expat Exchange, Betsy worked at AT&T in International and Mass Market Marketing. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.

Some of Betsy's articles include 12 Best Places to Live in Portugal, 7 Best Places to Live in Panama and 12 Things to Know Before Moving to the Dominican Republic. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.

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