At the University of Tartu, only a little over half of the expected number of teaching majors will enroll, and not a single rising freshman expressed interest in a career as a science teacher.
The university was expecting 460 students in its teacher training programs but drew 275, with the nature and science teacher training curriculum coming up empty.
Cellular biology professor Toivo Maimets, a onetime minister for education and science and frequent media commentator, said there is a flaw in the system that ultimately boils down to what he said were meager teaching salaries.
"Young people who make their choices for the future look at what the educational landscape offers them and given what they see, I think it's a reasonable decision on their part to prefer other careers," he told ERR radio.
Maimets said the education sector is a microcosm of the worst problems confronting Estonia, such as the lack of sufficient commitment on the part of political leaders to work toward solutions.
Margus Pedaste, professor of technology education and director of the Pedagogicum at the University of Tartu, says there will have to be closer cooperation with schools and integration of teacher training specialities.
Teacher training subjects could be promoted more heavily already at the basic school level, Pedaste said.
But Education Ministry undersecretary Mart Laidmets said the low interest in teaching majors is also due to state policy that is focused on quality - the threshold for admission was raised in a bid to reduce dropout rates in the teacher training majors. And state no longer pays a per-student subsidy to universities but rather a lump sum for a curriculum, so the universities have to do more to attract students to programs.