Schools, businesses skeptical of vocational education reform

Young students in vocational education and training (VET).
Young students in vocational education and training (VET). Source: ERR

The Estonian government is hoping to make vocational education more attractive with a reform that would extend the length of studies by a year. Both vocational schools and businesses, however, have reservations about the plan.

One in ten children in Estonia receives only a basic school education, i.e. through ninth grade. At the same time, according to Minister of Education and Research Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200), there are many students in rural high schools who should be attending vocational schools instead.

The government is now working out a planned vocational education reform aimed at making vocational training a more attractive prospect among young people.

The biggest planned change would be extending the length of vocational education at the secondary level to four years.

"It's specifically the general education element that would be expanded — math, Estonian, other general education subjects — to ensure the opportunity to obtain a good high school education," Kallas explained, referring to vocational high school programs. "But at the same time, there would be a trade alongside it. We'll be calling these applied high school specializations, and the choice of vocations will expand as well. The range of vocations currently available is very limited."

The minister believes that same greater choice of specializations should be the ticket to enticing more youth to learn a trade.

According to Tarmo Loodus, director of the Viljandi Vocational Training Center (VIKK), a third of students at his institution know exactly what they're there to study, a third are there due to parental pressure and health insurance eligibility, and a third need help in life. Loodus believes the last of these may benefit from an additional year, but the rest won't.

Some 10-15 percent of trade school students already go on into higher education, meaning that vocational education isn't a dead end.

"We must be a very rich country if we tack a year — a fourth year — onto vocational education," Loodus said. "That's definitely an issue — that's definitely a pretty big money issue."

According to the VIKK director, vocational education is already popular right now; of 18 programs offered there, applications are competitive to 11 of them. More popular programs are even seeing two to three applications per spot. Rather, it's more a question of whether there are any spots available at trade schools.

According to Jonatan Karjus, CEO of Estonian furniture producer Standard, too few trade school students end up in employment. He considers traineeships more important than general education subjects.

"A trade school cannot possibly teach you all the specifics of the furniture industry; that is learned in practice," Karjus said. "Whether someone ends up a good worker depends a great deal on their own willingness to learn."

Raoul Jakobson, who has years of experience as a chief executive, learned carpentry at the Tallinn School of Construction (TEK), and has been working in the field at furniture producer Avila Puit since February.

"The important thing is that you choose what it is you want to do," Jakobson said. "If you make the wrong choice, then of course you'll turn away from that work; it won't interest you."

The first vocational education and training (VET) schools slated to begin providing longer programs in Estonia, starting in 2024, are Tartu Vocational College (TRK), Ida-Virumaa Vocational Education Center (IVKK), Pärnumaa Vocational Education Center (PKHK), Tallinn Polytechnic School (TPT), Tartu Art School (TKK) and Tallinn Center of Industrial Education (TTHK).


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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