Estonians Should Continue Believing in Education
Toomas Jürgenstein (Social Democratic Party), Priit Sibul (Isamaa), Margit Sutrop (Reform Party), Marko Šorin (Centre Party) and Jaak Valge (Estonian Conservative People’s Party) discussed education, its funding and what could be expected for it in the discussion panel of Riigikogu Toimetised on 9 November.
MARKO ŠORIN: Speaking of education and our history, I will borrow the words of Chairman of the Cultural Affairs Committee Professor Aadu Must that Estonians believe in education. He always justifies it by saying that when we were serfs and belonged to an oppressed class, one of the ways to get out of those frames or to have a better life was to get a better education. Nowadays the quality indicators of education should be understandable, unambiguous, measurable and analysable or comparable.
Naturally, we need the kind of education that ensures that each member of society will be able to cope in their life. And not only cope, but also steadily improve their quality of life. After all, the principle is that an educated person is a person who can cope better in life. It is also cheaper for society or the state, if it is allowed to put it this way. If we know in which direction we want to go, we will find the money.
JAAK VALGE: Besides my work in the Riigikogu, I am also Associate Professor at the University of Tartu, although at present my workload is very small. There are three nations in Europe that have their own state but have never had their own aristocracy – Estonia, Latvia and the Czech Republic. This means that in Estonia, the role of the nobility had to be played by the intellectual aristocracy – the top of the pyramid of society, from where the ideas on the basis of which society was to develop were to emerge.
Today, the process of learning has changed to a certain extent, but the aim of learning is still the same – to acquire knowledge, skills and understanding. The notion of quality is currently very important for education in Estonia. Quality and money are not mutually exclusive, quality and quantity are certainly not mutually exclusive, but perhaps our education has become a little too quantity-based. With indicators based on quantity, it may happen that the quality side, especially in the evaluation of higher education institutions, starts to suffer.
In universities, quantitative measures are the most common. They can also undermine the quality of learning if, for example, universities are assessed by the proportion of students who graduate in the nominal time. Obviously, this does not improve quality. The level of university graduates can be assessed indirectly by a variety of indicators, in particular by the proportion of graduates who realise their potential in their profession after graduation. Again, of course, this is very differentiated, sometimes it fits and sometimes it does not.
TOOMAS JÜRGENSTEIN: I have been a teacher most of my life. Estonian education needs to be flexible. Flexibility and diversity are certain things that are reflected also in the history of our education. As a schoolteacher, I can assure you that the belief in education and the desire to educate oneself is really lifelong today.
The focus on the results of national exams and school rankings was clearly too much. It did nothing good for the internal climate of schools. I dare say that the situation has improved considerably. Now, when the ranking tables are published at some point, they cause a day or a day and a half of excitement, but nothing more. In the case of pre-school education, it is clear that it has to be playful, it has to lead the pupil to the path of education, it has to create in the pupil a feeling that intellectual activity is something enjoyable.
For me, it is important that, if we have a well-educated person coming out of higher education, who should have a broader picture, then alongside that there should be vocational training, where we have perhaps not highlighted enough the importance of being a master, the pride in being a master. Those who have acquired vocational education are not service workers, they are masters. When we talk about the quality of education, we should try to understand the extent to which we have been able to achieve either playfulness or openness at the various levels of schooling, as well as selectivity and responsibility, and being a master.
PRIIT SIBUL: Education is a set of skills, knowledge and experiences that can be used to describe both a person and a society. It is a very complex system. In the history of our country and our nation, education has had a very important place and role both in society and within families. Think, for example, of the families of the generation before last, where the economic situation was complicated, but still, if the eldest son inherited the farm, then it was tried to send other sons to school to get an education, even up to university.
What should the education system be like, or how can its quality be measured? There should be a sufficient range of different criteria and characteristics. The system will change and we will get what we measure. If we only watch the school ranking tables, we could start cramming for national exams again.
Surely it is possible nowadays to find more facts and knowledge, and more easily. Alongside knowledge and facts, developing attitudes and values is important in the education system. The education system should provide the basis for us as human beings to be able to understand each other. On the other hand, it should be personalised to such an extent that it would be interesting for us to interact with each other. The issue of values and attitudes is becoming increasingly important in order to understand and cope in the world and to enjoy being in society.
MARGIT SUTROP: In measuring quality, we should first ask what kind of education we want. What are the aims of education in general, and what the educated person we want to develop and whose development we want to support through education should be like? In my opinion, in this respect Estonia has moved much closer to an agreement by drawing up the Vision of Education 2035.
Two very important central concepts in education are lifelong learning and learner-centred education. Education is important in three roles: in professional life, in social life and in personal life. Education must equip individuals with competences consisting of three components: knowledge, skills and attitudes. The shift of focus in Estonian education should be more towards on how we think.
What is good education? First, we should try to assess whether education is built on lifelong learning. We can assess teachers, i.e., how teaching takes place, who teaches and how they teach, and what kind of environment to support learning they create. Another way is to assess learners and see whether they acquire the necessary competences. And the teacher should also enjoy teaching.
Wilhelm von Humboldt said that education is getting connected with the world. I have tried to develop this further in my philosophical discussions. In order to connect with the world, a person must know themselves and must know the world.