School's back: It's Knowledge Day in Estonia ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Nearly 140,000 Estonian children, taught by over 14,000 teachers in 533 schools, start another school year today. But it's not only children, who welcome the arrival of September with excitement. Ever since 2009, the share of adult learners in the society has passed the 10 percent threshold.

September 1 is celebrated as Knowledge Day in Estonia. Apart from the color of the flags waving in the wind and the song repertoire, Knowledge Day traditions in Estonia have remained very much the same for decades - tens of thousands of well-dressed youngsters still arrive at school with a bunch of flowers in their hands, and seniors take first-graders to class.

School Peace was also declared today in Türi. The Peace Declaration Ceremony is a yearly reminder that creating a favorable and safe school environment needs year-round attention. The ceremony unites both students and teachers, school administrative staff and parents to work towards a better school environment. School Peace is proclaimed every year in a different Estonian town.

President Toomas Hendrik Ilves delivered a televised message on Monday evening, saying that every child deserves an education that takes into account in best possible way his or her abilities, skills and character.

This year, around 15,000 kids will start first grade and 7,500 youngsters enter secondary education. Compulsory school attendance in Estonia generally begins at the age of 7 and lasts until the completion of basic education (grade 9), or up to the age of 17.

Rendition of traditional "Oh School-time" by pupils from Kärdla.

According to the Ministry of Education, the number of student in Estonia has dropped 40 percent in the last 17 year. Although stable for now, it is expected to see another downturn by 2018.

Less students mean less classes. Less classes, however, mean that many smaller schools struggle to offer full-time positions to teachers, forcing the local governments and the ministry to restructure the current school network. For example, 61 schools have less then 30 students this year, and 16 have closed their doors for good, although some have been reorganized, the ministry said. Moreover, 11 former high schools now only provide basic education. To read more on Estonian education system click here.

At the same time, four new state-run county gymnasiums (grades 10-12 only) opened on Monday in Jõhvi, Pärnu, Tartu and Võru, taking their number up to nine.

Karmo Kurvits, principal of newly opened Võru County Gymnasium, said their school is experimenting with longer, 75-minute lessons, and offers a wider array of optional courses.

Pärnu Koidula Gymnasium, on the other hand, rejoiced over its state-of-the-art science class set-up, similar to those in university laboratories.

The number of private schools is also on the rise (36 in 2011, 49 in 2014), as is that of registered hobby schools (313 in 2008, 591 in 2014).

Vocational education is also becoming increasingly popular, especially among adult learners, as more money and effort has been put into facilities and reputation. Around 25,500 students are in vocational training this academic year.

Student numbers for universities are yet to arrive.

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