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Ministry plans to merge some rural upper-secondary and vocational schools

Suure-Jaani school.
Suure-Jaani school. Source: Olev Kenk/ERR

The Ministry of Education and Research proposes to merge several upper-secondary high schools with vocational schools. The ministry said this solves rural school issues and gives students more freedom to switch types of education or take a year off while still in school.

The cash-strapped Põhja-Sakala Rural Municipality weighed merging their Suure-Jaani high school (grades 10-12) with Olustvere School of Service and Rural Economics.

Raivo Trummal, ministry of education and research public schools department chief, said that this idea fits the state's plans, as it would mean nationalizing that specific part of general high school (grades 10–12), which is now under the purview of municipalities.

"Our development plan aims to ensure that learning opportunities for pupils are varied, accessible and that flexible and personalized learning pathways are developed," Trummal said.

He mentioned the government's plan to extend compulsory schooling from basic education (grades 1-9) to upper secondary or vocation level (grades 10-12 in high school or three years of vocational schooling).

Minister of Education Kristina Kallas meets with rural community leaders and residents to discuss the future of Suure-Jaani High School. Source: Olev Kenk/ERR

"It is also important that we offer flexible alternatives for pupils who don't know where to go next or who are unable to attend high school when they enter secondary level education. For example, a choice year or elective education could be introduced if necessary through a single admission process."

Trummal said that municipalities in some areas find it too expensive to run smaller scale high schools, which is the problem facing now the Põhja-Sakala rural municipality.

"It is rather logical that schools, if they have the capacity, should create so-called centers of excellence where students can choose the learning path that suits them best," he said. "One where they have the flexibility to move from one direction to another, even while they are studying."

Exactly how to merge schools will have to be assessed on a case-by-case basis, Trummal continued.

In the case of the Suure-Jaani High School, for example, this would have to be agreed with the municipality. "The most reasonable approach is that the students who today have chosen for one or another institution would finish it in the same way as usual, while the corresponding course will be also established at the Olustvere school in due time."

Vocational school in Olustvere, where a state upper-secondary merged with vocational school could start in 6-7 years. Autor/allikas: Olev Kenk/ERR

He said that the Vocational Educational Institutions Act already provides for the possibility of a combined general and vocational education institution. "Indeed, such an institution is already in place," Trummal said, highlighting the Tallinn School of Music and Ballet (MUBA).

In the rural municipality of Põhja-Sakala, the idea of merging a vocational school and a secondary school is driven by the municipality's small budget. But these arguments, which appear to be purely in the interests of the students, apply as well, Trummal said.

"Maybe the problem of smaller rural high schools is rather sporadic at the moment, but it actually makes sense to work on this solution in different setting as well," Trummal said.

Trummal said that combining a high school (grades 10-12) and a vocational school could be considered in Sillamäe (predominantly Russian speaking city in eastern Estonia), for example.

"One case has evolved to the point where the upper secondary school is housed within a vocational school," he said about the Sillamäe high school.

"It is then sensible to find a unique approach that could allow pupils to choose from many kinds of studies inside the same institution," he said.

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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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