Center on International Education Benchmarking

Estonia: Teacher and Principal Quality

Overview | Learning Systems | Teacher and Principal Quality
Equity | Career and Technical Education | Governance and Accountability

Recruitment and Compensation

Traditionally, teaching has not been a high-status or high-paying field in Estonia.  By 2000, the country faced teacher shortages in several areas, and with teacher salaries lower than those in other high status professions, the recruitment of talented young people was difficult. Most of the applicants to teacher education have come from the lower half of university applicants.

There has been an effort to address this, with average salaries of primary, lower secondary, and upper secondary teachers increasing 56 percent between 2000 and 2012, far higher than the 20 percent average for OECD countries during that period.

Despite the growth in teachers’ salaries, teacher salaries in Estonia are still significantly lower than those paid to other full-time, full-year workers with tertiary education aged 24-65 (about 64 percent of the average earnings), well below the OECD average of 80 percent. In 2011, the teachers’ union organized a strike for higher salaries, and this remains a hotly contested issue.

Initial Education and Training

Teacher training in Estonia is a five-year program, which culminates in a master’s degree. New accelerated programs have been instituted that allow graduates with a degree in another subject area to undergo intensive training and earn a teaching certification in two months.

Universities and professional higher education institutions provide initial teacher education. The University of Tartu boasts the Institute of Education and Educational Research and Development Center. Teacher training programs are also offered at the University of Tallinn Institute of Educational Sciences

Teacher training includes three components: general education studies; study related to specific subject(s); and professional study (education science, psychology, didactics and practical training). Vocational teachers and pre-primary teachers are trained at the first level of higher education, while basic and upper-secondary school teachers undertake the second cycle. They are awarded certificates that provide evidence of their specific teaching qualifications.

Career Ladders

A career ladder for teachers has been developed in recent years. New Professional Standards for Teaching were released in 2005 and revised recently. This system moved from one standard for all teachers to four standards in a progression. Teachers move from starting teachers, senior teachers, and finally master teachers, or “teacher- methodologist,” as they are called in Estonia. Kindergarten teachers make up their own separate category.

Rising through these professional ranks does not have a direct impact on a teacher’s salary. Ultimately, principals have the power to decide how much a teacher is paid.

Professional Development

Since 2004, all teacher training graduates have been required to undergo an induction  year  where  they are  supported  by  their  colleagues/mentors  and  where  they  can  also  take  part  in  the  support programs offered by teacher training institutes at universities.  By 2013, about 20 percent of Estonian teachers reported having taken part in a formal induction when they began their teaching careers.

Teachers are obligated to complete a minimum of 160 hours of professional training during every five-year period. For vocational teachers, the requirement is a minimum of two months of professional training during every three-year period. In order to attain the occupational grade of senior teacher and teacher-methodologist, teachers must have completed 160 hours of in-service training in the last five years.

The required 160 hours of professional in-service teacher training can take place in the form of independent work or in state and municipal institutions, private schools with training licenses, or by legal persons or sole traders governed by private or public law if their activities comply with the taught subject or specialty. Teachers can and are encouraged to further their education abroad in order to gain an international perspective that could benefit students.

According to the TALIS 2013 survey, a larger proportion of Estonian teachers report having undertaken professional development in the 12 months prior to the survey than in most other TALIS countries (93 percent). However, a larger proportion of teachers continue to report a high level of need for professional development aimed at developing their ICT skills for teaching compared to most other TALIS countries. (24.1 percent).


Ratio of Lower Secondary Education Teachers’ Salary to GDP per Capita 2014

EstoniaTeacherSalary2014Source: OECD 2016 Education At a Glance (Teacher Salary) and OECD (GDP).

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