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Education ministry plans overhaul of vocational schools system

Vocational students at work.
Vocational students at work. Source: Elina Malleus

The twenty-year-old vocational education system, based on professional standards, is falling behind the times, in today's rapidly changing world, ERR reports, prompting the Ministry of Education and Research to prepare a plan to reform that system.

The purpose of the change is to link the education system even more closely with the labor market.

Külli All, head of the ministry's skills and vocational policy field, says the proposed reform is fundamental. Whereas the current system is based on specific professions, the reform could result in a system based on universal skills, and their development.

"If you would like to change your profession or do something else with your life, in order to orient yourself, you would now have the opportunity to evaluate yourself via the digital system which is in hand," All said.

"The system could give you a recommendation on what you still need to learn, the skills or skill set you have already acquired through work experience and various courses, and how this could all be assessed," she went on.

Where an individual decides they want to become a chef, for example, the planned system would help to assess whether their current experience and skills are sufficient to fulfill that role, including its team-player aspects, the ability calculate calorie content of meals, to prepare a menu, as well as to liaise with both customers and wait staff.

"In order to move away from the professional standard-centered system used so far, and in order to transfer these skills into sets more quickly and flexibly, plus also make them computer-readable and amenable to analysis, we need to describe skills universally, rather than by each work group describing their skills as a separate entity," All went on.

Agreement is also needed whereby all skills are described in the same way, making it possible to quickly and flexibly put these skills into their appropriate sets.

All added that this skills-based approach would also help to eliminate the current situation in the labor market where there are unemployed people on the one side, and vacant jobs on the other, but these two sides somehow cannot get together.

Arto Aas, CEO of the Central Union of Estonian Employers, said that he is not yet familiar with the details of the reform plans, but at present it seems that the chosen direction is the right one, in his view.

IT systems and digital solutions must be modern in order to help employers find people, Aas said.

They should also provde a timely and necessary signal to learners, whether they be young people who are still choosing their vocational or higher education institution, or older people who are making a career change, or want to change their studies, Aas added.

"In this way they, too, can get the information from IT systems and educational systems on time, so that they can get to grips with what they should be studying."

Raini Jõks, director of on such vocational school, Tartu Applied College (Tartu Rakendusliku Kolledž), agreed that a change is needed in vocational systems, with a focus on skills-based set being absolutely correct. Based on the labor market as it is now, it can be observed that teaching people different skills is more important than teaching them specific occupations, she said.

The planned reform could be finalized by 2029, while the ministry's work plan includes the development of the relevant legislation, which could be submitted to the government within that time.

Vocational schools follow on from the compulsory basic school (Põhikool), alongside the high school (Gümnaasium) framework. As noted adult learners can attend vocational school, also.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mirjam Mäekivi

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