Center on International Education Benchmarking

Estonia: Teacher and Principal Quality

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

Teacher 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 in Estonia, the recruitment of talented young people was difficult. This has been particularly problematic since the emergence of well-paid jobs in the technology sector. In addition, most of the applicants to teacher education have come from the lower half of university applicants. Over the last decade, policymakers have developed a career ladder in teaching, raised the requirements for entry into teacher preparation and raised teacher salaries in an effort to address this issue.

Estonia has made efforts to address the low level of teacher salaries, which have historically been significantly lower than the rest of the OECD. Average salaries of primary, lower secondary, and upper secondary teachers have increased 56 percent between 2000 and 2012, far higher than the 20 percent average for OECD countries during that period. As a result, teacher salaries in Estonia are comparable to those paid to other full-time, full-year workers with tertiary education aged 24-65. In Estonia, teacher salaries are about 89 percent of the earnings of similar workers.

Fully aligning teachers’ salaries with the earnings for full-time workers with tertiary education by 2020 is a goal of Estonia’s most recent national strategic plan, the Estonian Lifelong Learning Strategy 2020. The plan also aims to raise the percentage of teachers who are under age 30 to 12.5 percent by the same year.

Teacher Initial Education and Training

Teacher training in Estonia is a five-year program, which culminates in a master’s degree. As part of the effort to increase recruitment into the profession, 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.

Both universities and professional higher education institutions provide initial teacher education. Teacher training includes three components: general education studies; study related to specific subject(s); and professional study (education science, psychology, didactics, and practical training). Graduates are awarded certificates that provide evidence of their specific teaching qualifications.

Teacher Career Ladders

A career ladder for teachers has been developed in recent years. New Professional Standards for Teaching were released in 2005 and revised in 2013. This system moved from one standard for all teachers to four standards in a progression. Teachers move from starting teachers, to senior teachers, and finally master teachers, or “teacher-methodologists” as they are called in Estonia. Teachers move up based on years of experience, professional development completed (as described below) and successful demonstration of competency in evaluations. Kindergarten teachers make up their own separate category.

Rising through these professional ranks does not have a direct impact on a teacher’s salary, however, as principals maintain the authority to decide how much a teacher is paid. Teacher methodologists may be given some additional responsibility for leading professional learning and helping to coach their peers, but role differentiation of teachers is not as developed in Estonia as in other jurisdictions.

Teacher Professional Development

Since 2004, all teacher training graduates have been required to undergo an induction year in which they are supported by their colleagues/mentors and can also take part in the support programs offered by teacher training institutes at universities.

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. Teachers cannot move up the career ladder unless they complete the ongoing professional development required by law. The required professional in-service teacher training can take place in the form of independent training or in state and municipal institutions or private schools with training licenses.

The content of required training strongly emphasizes diagnosis and reflection. Teachers are trained in in-service to use an inquiry approach, to see themselves as researchers who can diagnose student needs, try out new practices, and assess their impact on student learning. The Ministry has developed electronic self-evaluation tools to enable teachers to rate themselves against a set of common standards and select areas of focus for their self-improvement in in-service training. Another emphasis of professional development is the use of technology in the classroom, with the goal that all teachers become adept at facilitating students’ ability to use technology in research and analysis.

School Leader Development

The roles of school leaders are defined in the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act (2010). The principal’s role is largely managerial with considerable autonomy over professional development funds and teacher salaries, salary increases, and hiring and termination decisions. Principals are also given authority over school policies on student discipline and assessment. While the principal has the responsibility to enforce curriculum guidelines, teachers have a great deal of autonomy over curriculum and instruction.

However, principals are not paid well relative to other highly educated professions, and schools have struggled with principal recruitment. The Estonian Lifelong Learning Strategy 2020 recommended that the Ministry of Education and Research specify competency requirements for principals. The competencies would be used to recruit principals, provide feedback on their performance and appraisal, and guide ongoing professional learning. The Strategy also suggested launching a training program for future school leaders although this has not yet been implemented.


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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