Adult Education in Estonia

Agne Narusk

What is meant in the country when you talk about Adult Education?

Adult Education in Estonia is one of the following:
– formal education in adult comprehensive schools (Gümnaasium), vocational education institutions or higher education institutions;
– professional education and training;
– non-formal education (popular adult education).
The main objective of the Estonian Lifelong Learning Strategy is to improve adults’ opportunities and motivation for participating in formal, non-formal and informal learning in order to improve their knowledge and skills according to their own needs, the needs of the society and labour market.
Despite the name of the strategy it focuses mainly on developments in adult education.

What is typical for Adult Education in the country?

In Estonia the concept of adult learner is in general not related to the age of the learner. According to our legislation adult learner is a learner whose premier or main activity is other than studying, i.e. he/she is working or taking care of children and studying at the same time.
Typical for AE in Estonia are flexible study opportunities for adult learners: distance learning and evening courses, external study and part-time study, as well as participation in various courses.

Legal basis

– The Adult Education Act (1993, new version 2009) is the central act of the adult education system.
– The regulation of the Minister of Education and Research, The Procedure for and Conditions of Attending a Basic School or Upper Secondary School in the Form of Evening Courses or Distance Learning, and Graduating from School as an External Student, which regulates the learning opportunities of adults in basic schools and upper secondary schools;
– The regulation of the Minister of Education and Research, The Procedure and Conditions for Organizing Professional Education for Adults by Vocational Educational Institutions, which regulates the organization of adult professional training by institutions of vocational education;
– The regulation of the Minister of Education and Research, The Procedure for the Formation of State-Commissioned Education within the Area of Government of the Ministry of Education and Research, which legalized state-commissioned adult vocational education as a new type of state-commissioned education in 2007;
– The Institutions of Professional Higher Education Act regulates full-time and part-time study and external study, and the organization of training courses as well as the recognition of previous study and work experience;
– The Universities Act regulates full-time and part-time study and external study, and the organization of training courses as well as the recognition of previous study and work experience;
– The Private Schools Act regulates the establishment and operation of private schools. Pursuant to the Act, all legal persons in private law who provide studies for a duration that exceeds 120 hours or six months per year must establish a private school and apply for an education licence.
–  The Development Plan for Estonian Adult Education 2009-2013 is a continuation of Lifelong Learning Strategy.

Responsible public bodies/ministries

– Estonian Ministry of Education and Research: Mr Tõnis Lukas, Minister of Education and Research;
Mr Andres Pung, Head of Vocational and Adult Education Department of Ministry
– Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs: Mr Hanno Pevkur, Minister of Social Affairs; Mr Meelis Paavel, Head of Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund

Relevant umbrella associations and national (service) organisations

– Association of Estonian Adult Educators Andras – unites the representatives of different adult education providers in Estonia (40 members, 4 individual members and 3 Members of Honour); represents Estonian adult education in Europe and in the world; aims at increasing the competence of adult educators.
– Estonian Non-formal Adult Education Association (ENAEA) – non-governmental, national umbrella organisation in the non-formal adult education field associating education-orientated NGOs. ENAEA, the follower of the Estonian Union of Education (1924-1940), was re-established in 1994.

Providers of Adult Education

Formal education and vocational education:
– Adult upper secondary schools and classes (ca 40);
–  institutions of vocational education ( ca 45);
– highschools (ca 23) and universitys (there are 6 universities in public law and 4 privately owned universities)

Professional education and training:
– In addition to formal education, institutions of vocational education and higher education are providing increasingly more continuing education courses and retraining courses:
a) continuing education centers in vocational education (vocational training centres etc.)-

b) Continuing Education centres of Universitys:
– Tallinn University 
– University of tartu
– Tallinn University of Technology
– Estonian University of Life Sciences
– Estonian Academy of Arts
– private and non-governmental institutions

Informal education:
Folk schools and Folk High Schools, training centers etc.


The most important areas are work-related continuing education training and retraining course; also courses of enterprise, private enterprise, self-employment.; social kills, official language (estonian) for non-estonian adults, foreign languages, IT.Staff*The professional standard of an adult educator is awarded on levels II, III, IV and V. The closing date for applications is April 15 and October 15 annually.
*So far 229 professional certificates of adult education specialists/ andragogues have been issued.
*Number of persons working in the field of AE is unbeknownst.

Quality system/insurance

Estonian qualification system is made up of the development of professional standards and the issue of professional certificates. Professional standards are put together on five professional levels, established on the basis of the complexity of work, the share of skills and knowledge and the scope of required independence and responsibility. As a rule, the first three professional levels are associated with qualified labour, evolving on the basis of the apprentice-assistant-master principle. The third level of a qualified employer is the highest i.e. the so-called master’s level. Qualifications assuming higher education start from the third level. Levels four and five are generally associated with leadership function and the increased complexity and responsibility of work.
The Professions Act serves as a legal basis for the development and implementation of the qualification system.
The right to attribute qualification was given to Estonian Association of Estonian Adult Educators Andras, who established a professional council, made up of the experts of the field. First professional standard was knowledge-based. For the implementation of a competence-based professional standard a new version was worked out and the already existing three levels (III – V) were supplemented by level II (2007).

Latest developments/main problems in the discussion

1. Creating opportunities for lifelong learning for all adults according to their abilities and needs;
2. Transparent funding of adult education and training;
3. Non-Estonian adults are sufficiently fluent in the Estonian language in order to cope with life in society and with work; they can learn their mother tongue and be engaged in national cultural activities if they wish so.
4. Quality assurance system for adult education and training;
5. An information system for learners including information about education and training opportunities and career services.
6. Professional qualifications system for employees; the system is necessary to ensure lifelong learning and free movement of labour force.
7. A system of taking into account prior learning and work experience (VÕTA) is implemented in all fields and levels of study.
8. Public, private and the third sector institutions are involved in the development of adult education and training system and policy.
9. Reliable statistical data concerning adult education and training; regular surveys enabling to prepare forecasts for the development of the field.

Relevant links
EAEA Country presentation: Estonia
Euridyce: Structures of Education and Training Systems in Europe – Estonia
Association of Estonian Adult Educators Andras
Estonian Non-formal Adult Education Association
Statistics Estonia 
Estonian Ministry of Education and Research 
Estonian Qualification Authority
The electronic version of the State Gazette

General country information