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Report: Tallinn, Tartu schools' future dependent on teacher workload, wages

The renovated Tallinn German High School reopened in January 2020.
The renovated Tallinn German High School reopened in January 2020. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Resolving teaching quality issues and finding the next generation of teachers for schools in Tallinn and Tartu will depend chiefly on lightening teachers' workloads and on how competitive the teaching profession is in the labor markets of Estonia's biggest two cities, according to the latest report published by the Foresight Center.

In its assessment of the future for the next generation of teachers in schools, the Foresight Center defined three categories of schools in Estonia: those in Tallinn and Tartu, those in other urban areas as well as rural schools, according to a press release.

Eneli Kindisko, an expert at the think tank, explained that the future scenarios for teachers produced as part of the research stream on the future for the next generation of teachers reflect possible future developments in those schools and can help in understanding where current trends may lead.

"The scenarios are not solutions to current problems; they are narratives about the future that help in understanding what may happen if one or another trend dominates," Kindisko explained. "If one or another scenario appears worrying or entirely unattractive, it's worth considering how to avoid it being realized."

According to the results of the latest short report, two issues must be addressed as priorities in order to ensure the next generation of teachers in schools in Tallinn and Tartu – the excessive workload teachers have to bear, as well as the competitiveness of the teaching profession in the country's two largest cities, where wage pressures are high and there is a broader range of attractive alternative jobs available than in other cities and parts of Estonia.

There are more younger teachers of young family age working in the two cities' schools than in other parts of the country, and such teachers consequently have greater financial obligations and and higher salary expectations; 29 percent of teachers in Harju County and 33 percent of those in Tartu County are under 40 years of age, compared with 16-22 percent in other parts of Estonia.

Kindisko noted that the baseline scenario for the next generation of teachers in the two cities' schools is one of private teachers, where whether children have access to a good education will in the future depend on whether their parents can pay for private teachers that can help fill the educational gaps created by schools' teacher shortages.

"This is the case that would arise by 2040 if we don't make any changes and current trends continue," she explained. "In the private teacher scenario, teaching would be done by private teachers, and the educational gap would widen. The number of private schools in Tallinn and Tartu is rising, but this means that a good education is only ensured for those children with the wealthiest parents."

The best scenario available, meanwhile, is the smart teacher scenario, in which technology is used to reduce teachers' workloads.

"We will have to work hard to reach that point, as recent PISA results show that other countries have outpaced us in using digital technology to enhance teaching," the think tank expert acknowledged.

In the smart teacher scenario, future teaching staff will be able to navigate using smart technology, ensuring that a good education doesn't depend on the teacher's physical presence. Routine tasks are automated, and the teacher's primary focus is on working with students with special needs, developing pupils' social skills as well as understanding children's psyches.

The Foresight Center notes that one advantage of this smart teacher scenario is that the teaching profession would become more valued and appreciated by the state as well as by society. Class sizes in Tallinn and Tartu schools would be reduced, teachers' workweek would be limited to 35 hours, and their minimum salary would reach 120 percent of the average Estonian wage.

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.  

Its research into the future of the teaching profession in Estonia through 2040 can be found here (link in Estonian).

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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