One in six teachers in Estonia underqualified

Empty classroom.
Empty classroom. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The proportion of teachers in Estonia lacking the required qualifications to do their jobs has risen over the last seven years, with more than one in six teachers currently deemed underqualified. A further increase in the proportion of underqualified teachers is expected next year, when Estonian language ability is added to the list of mandatory requirements for obtaining teaching qualifications.

According to the Estonian Ministry of Education, in the 2016/17 academic year 13.46 percent of all teachers in Estonia lacked at least some of qualifications required in order to teach. This figure has since increased, reaching 17.96 percent for the current academic year.

Of the 23,252 female teachers currently working in primary, general and vocational education in Estonia, 3,747, or 16.11 percent, are underqualified.

While there are fewer male teachers in Estonia (3,346), the proportion who lack the required qualifications is even higher, at 30.78 percent (1,030).

Asked if the Ministry of Education and Research considers the situation problematic, ministry spokesperson Iiris Saluri replied in the affirmative. "The answer is simple - yes, it is a problem," Saluri said.

Saluri explained, that the reasons teachers lack the required qualifications, which are a master's degree or equivalent, plus a specialized teaching certificate, vary.

"Some don't have a degree, others have not pursued a teaching qualification. There are a lot of people who go to work in schools while they are still at university, which means they are in the process of obtaining a degree. There are also quite a large number, who cannot concentrate on obtaining a degree alongside working (as teachers)."

To solve the problem, the ministry plans to work with Tallinn University and the University of Tartu to set up a new teaching academy. This will allow teachers without degrees, who already work in schools, to attain the qualifications they need in a more flexible way, Saluri said.

New language requirements will mean more unqualified teachers

Saluri also acknowledged, that the proportion of underqualified teachers is expected to increase further next year, once Estonian language proficiency is added to the current list of requirements for attaining teaching qualifications.

The Estonian language requirements for teachers were tightened last December in amendments to the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act, and are due to enter into force on August 1, 2024.

From then on, teachers of foreign languages will be required to have B2 level Estonian, while those who teach other subjects, where Estonian will be the only language of instruction, have to be at C1 level. "The language requirements have been in place for a long time, but now they will also become a component of the teaching qualification," Saluri said.

"When it comes to the move to Estonian (as the only language of instruction in classrooms -ed.) and making (Estonian) language ability a mandatory requirement for earning the (teaching) qualification, yes, the proportion of unqualified teachers will most likely increase. By how much that will be, we cannot say for sure at the moment," said Saluri.

Saluri added, that according to the Language Inspectorate (Keeleamet), there are currently more than 2,300 educators in Estonia, who do not meet the Estonian language proficiency requirements.

"It is difficult to say how many of them will be able to improve their language skills by the time that becomes one of the requirements for gaining the (teaching) qualification. However, it is a positive sign, that we have seen a surge of interest in (Estonian) language learning among teachers," said Saluri.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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