The shortage of teachers in general education schools who meet qualification requirements is even greater than the Estonian education information system indicates, a new report by the National Audit Office shows.
The NAO believes the Ministry of Education and Research is drifting further from its targets set in the action plan for ensuring the next generation of teachers.
Although the target set there is that 90 percent of teachers in general education schools must comply with qualification requirements by 2026, the target is unlikely to be met.
Whilst in 2014, 90.2 percent of teachers met the qualification requirements according to the educational statistics database Haridussilm, their share had fallen to 81.2 percent by 2022.
The target will be moved even further when Estonian language proficiency is added to the qualification requirements from August 1 this year.
There are also not enough teachers with "subject-specific competencies". Of the nearly 500 teachers in the audit sample who teach natural and exact sciences in basic schools, more than a quarter were not trained to teach these subjects.
"The audit revealed that there is no correct data on the qualification requirements of teachers," said NAO Audit Manager Rauno Vinni. "In the sample of the NAO's audit, about one in four teachers of natural and exact sciences did not meet the qualification requirements."
Whilst the data in the Estonian Education Information System (EHIS) showed that 82 percent of the 486 teachers of natural and exact sciences at basic schools who were included in the audit sample complied with the qualification requirements, the audit revealed that in reality, the share of teachers meeting the qualification requirements was lower (76 percent).
There are two main reasons for the problem – heads of schools make mistakes when assessing qualification requirements because there is too much room for interpretation when assessing compliance, and data is incorrectly entered into EHIS.
The NAO points out that the shortage of adequately qualified teachers worsens the quality of general education.
The analysis showed that in a situation of teacher shortages, lessons in natural and exact sciences are often taught by other subject or class teachers working at the school, and by "career switchers".
A teacher may thereby be formally qualified – they may have both the required master's degree and a teaching profession – but at the same time they may not have had the necessary training in the subject they teach.
However, teaching subjects such as chemistry, physics or maths to a high standard requires not only mastery of the subject, but also knowledge of subject didactics, i.e. the practice and theory of teaching the subject.
Heads of schools, owners of the schools and the Ministry of Education and Research have paid little attention to developing the subject-specific competencies of teachers.
"Teachers often teach more than one subject, but in the sample of the NAO's audit, only 34 percent of teachers had the necessary training in all the subjects of natural and exact sciences they teach," said Audit Manager Rauno Vinni. "This is too few. In addition, 27 percent of the teachers surveyed lacked the necessary training to teach the subjects at all. This is too many."
The NAO advises the Ministry of Education and Research to make more efforts to streamline teacher qualification data in EHIS. The assessment of qualification requirements should be better explained to the heads of schools.
Accurate and relevant data on teacher compliance with qualification requirements is needed to see changes in the teaching workforce; to understand what needs to be done in order to ensure quality education and how much money and people are needed for this.
The NAO advises the Ministry of Education and Research to support more actively both the development of the subject-specific competencies of teachers and their compliance with qualification requirements.
Teachers need more systematic support to meet qualification requirements and to improve their subject-specific competencies, as the level of teachers' knowledge and skills has a direct impact on the quality of education.
It is necessary to move decisively forward with the implementation of the action plan for the next generation of teachers, as well as with other education policy decisions, such as the reorganization of the school network, which could provide resource savings and make it possible to create better working conditions for competent teachers – higher salaries and a reasonable workload in their profession.
During the audit, the NAO assessed the compliance of 486 teachers of natural science, physics, chemistry, geography, biology, and mathematics at school level III, i.e. grades 7-9, of municipal schools.
The sample covered 20 percent of all teachers who taught subjects of natural and exact sciences at school level III in municipal schools in Estonia in the 2022/2023 study year.
Editor: Helen Wright