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Groundwork for Estonian success in PISA education tests laid in 1996

Estonia is hosting an international conference "PISA - a Valuable Source for Seeking Reasons and Success or Failure", which concludes today. Ahead of the conference, Imbi Henno, from the Ministry of Education, discussed the reasons behind Estonian education system's successes, and failures, with ERR.

Henno said that the PISA tests, which assess the practical reading and math skills and the knowledge of natural sciences of 15-year-old pupils, are fairly reliable. They show that Estonian children have good skills in average, but the education system tends to fail the more talented youngsters.

One of the aims of the tests is to determine the influence of socio-economic background on pupils' results. The last three test rounds have shown that Estonian pupils are affected less by their socio-economic conditions than their peers in many other countries.

According to the report, pupils of Estonia, Finland and Iceland are the only ones who have equal opportunities regardless of where their school is located. "We may find it hard to believe but it is so in international comparison. The extremes must be even greater in other countries," Henno said.

What lies behind this success?

"We must say a huge thank you to those people who initiated the change in the Estonian education system in the end of the 1980s. The national curricula that was passed in 1996 lay the ground for our success in education," Henno said.

The strong points of the Estonian system are equal opportunities, free education (including higher education), professional teachers, very motivated students and the fact that the schools enjoy great autonomy: the teachers are relatively free to decide what and how they teach. One of the key reasons why Estonia has managed to do so well in only 20 years, is the high value placed on education in the society.

However, whereas the national average is high, Estonia has less students, who reach the highest skill levels than other developed countries. "We have the capacity to sculpt the middle section of the population but we are much less able to develop pupils' talents," Henno said. In Finland, for example, a third more reach the two highest achievement levels in natural sciences than in Estonia.

"We have to put more effort into enhancing creativity and analytic, innovative and critical thinking," Henno concluded.

The conference was opened on Wednesday by the Minister of Education and Research of Estonia, Jevgeni Ossinovski, and attended by his equivalent from Finland, Krita Kiuru.

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