Estonian think tank develops future need for teachers calculator

Students in a hallway at Kiili High School during the nationwide teachers' warning strike warning strike on Friday morning. November 10, 2023.
Students in a hallway at Kiili High School during the nationwide teachers' warning strike warning strike on Friday morning. November 10, 2023. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Several variables affect the future need for teachers in Estonia's schools, from student numbers to the use of educational technology. To understand the effect that these various factors have, the Foresight Center has developed a calculator for estimating the need for teachers, the independent Riigikogu think tank announced Monday.

Foresight Center research director Uku Varblane acknowledged that it's difficult to calculate the effects of disparate variables as these effects don't manifest in isolation and individually in the real world, according to a press release.

"This is why we've developed this calculator, as it allows for various combinations of the factors affecting the need for teachers to be tested and the indirect impact of changes to the supply of and demand for teachers to be estimated," Varblane explained.

Simulations run using the calculator were used by the Foresight Center for its latest brief report on scenarios for the need for teachers through 2040, which found that if current trends continue, the shortage of teachers will vanish by 2037 due to the decline in student numbers.

"It must also be taken into account, however, that the number of students is not falling equally across Estonia as this decline varies by region, and so the teacher shortage could persist much longer in some places," the research director highlighted.

The need for teachers may increase if the number of school-age children in Estonia declines more slowly than assumed by the Eurostat population forecast, including due to higher immigration numbers, for example. The overall need may also be magnified if there is an increase in the share of students with special education needs (SEN), particularly in those needing intensive and specialized support.

Meanwhile, the successful introduction of educational technology, or learning in general becoming more efficient, could have the opposite effect on the need for teachers.

The calculator can also take the supply of teachers into account, anticipating how many teachers will enter the labor market and how many will leave it.

Tech, higher teacher-student ratio could reduce need

Should current trends continue, the demand for teachers, i.e. the number of teaching positions that need to be filled, will fall from the current 15,000 to around 12,000 by 2040, the Foresight Center said. This demand could fall to as low as 10,000 if educational technology allowed teachers to free up 20 percent of their working time, as estimated by consulting firm McKinsey.

Greater efficiency could reduce the number of needed teaching positions even further if Estonia were to increase its teacher-to-student ratio from the current 1:11 to 1:14, putting it at the same level as in Slovenia and Romania and slightly exceeding those of Sweden and Finland.

The Foresight Center calculator (link in Estonian) currently covers Estonia as a whole, and does not take region-specific features or different future needs for subject teachers at various education levels into account. The calculator displays the impact of changes for each year through 2040.

This calculator is based on simulations developed for the Foresight Center's research stream into the future for the next generation of teachers, which considers trends to date and various possible directions that developments could take in the future, as well as examines the fundamental political choices in issues involving the future for Estonia's next generation of teachers.

It highlights the central uncertainties and key factors on which the next generation of the country's teachers, through the year 2040, will depend.

The Foresight Center is a think tank at the Chancellery of the Riigikogu that analyzes long-term developments in society and the economy. It conducts research aimed at analyzing long-term developments and discovering new trends in Estonian society.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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