Adult Education in Estonia: From Hobby to Profession


The Medical Department of the University of Tartu has validated language courses at the training centre of the Open Education Association equal to those in the university and accredits their students equally for both. The University of Tartu is also running a project that investigates how previous education and experiences can be adequately validated by the university.
In 2004 Estonia joined the Nordic – Baltic joint programme „Joint Action of Valuation of Learning” (JAVAL). Participants of this programme have claimed that one of the presuppositions of validating previous education is a thorough clarification of the study programmes of the non-formal education centres. Estonian educational centres have begun an internal evaluation programme and the next step in this process is to begin to create the curricula according to learning outcomes. The aim is to give an overview for the learner as well as for the employer of the content of the education.

Independent assessment bodies are necessary

Participants of JAVAL have also come to the conclusion that independent assessment bodies are necessary for evaluation and accreditation of people’s previous education. The problem might be that the Estonian politicians consider these bodies unaffordable at the moment.
In one meeting the idea to organize courses in non-formal education centres that correspond to state school curricula and that can be completed with an exam in any adult gymnasium came up and found positive responses. This would be a way for the municipal and non-formal education centres to collaborate in the interests of the learner.
It may come as a surprise for people in Nordic countries but in Estonia one of the problems is that many learners still do not recognize their non-formal education as something to be validated. Learning is only associated with schools here. But for example one would hardly consider singing in a choir as something worth to be validated.

Assigning vocation

Quite a lot has been accomplished in the non- and informal education in terms of assigning vocations. Certificates are currently given for over 100 vocations.1 Mainly craftsmen (bricklayers, welders, carpenters, electricians etc) but also sport trainers, teachers, choir conductors etc. During the last year altogether 40 people have been assigned the certificate of adult educator.
The adult educator, Merle Lõhmus who has actively participated in developing the vocational standards for adult educators notes the following:
„We tried to be rather strict with ourselves when writing the vocational standards for adult educators and the result is indeed rather demanding. For instance the 4th degree of vocation is only given to educators with a MA degree. And for the 5th level certificate a PhD is required. I myself had to finish my MA course before applying for the 4th degree certificate. Also a certificate of formal education had to be presented (in my case it was the university diploma).
Non-formal and informal education was validated after presenting documents about completed courses concerning adult education as well as about self-study, participation in seminars and research projects and publication of articles. I mentioned four trainings in Nordens Folkliga Akademi (NFA) in Göteborg (1993-1996) and participation in Nordic-Baltic joint project “Learning for Sharing” (2000-2002). The latter was in fact an intensive training for all participants.

Standards are being questioned

When the material in the portfolio is not sufficiently convincing for the evaluation body, two supervisors are sent to observe and evaluate the adult educator at work. In my case the supervisors were not sent, also because I have been an adult educator for over 20 years already and in the small country of Estonia I am simply known well enough.
But the existing vocational standards are being questioned again today, considering that they might be too demanding. Therefore an additional 2nd degree certificate will be added to the existing rd, 4th and 5th degree, in order to motivate also adult educators with less work experience.
Secondly it has been proposed that for the attainment of 4th and 5th degree certificate an academic degree should not be decisive. Vocational certificates are after all meant to distinguish the real professionals: academic degrees and diplomas should be of secondary importance only.
Thirdly the intention is that vocational standards be based on competencies. This means that instead of listing knowledge, skills and personal traits the educator will be described through behaviour at work. The descriptions will answer the questions of how the educator works. For instance “considers the expectations and needs when setting an aim for the course” or “supports constructive relations in a working group” etc.

No higher salary

According to these descriptions both the applicant as well as the validating commission can observe how far the competencies meet the requirements. Certificates of formal and non-formal education will be needed also in the future but the most important factor will be the applicant’s actual work competence. At this point non-formal education can play an increasingly important role.
Until now we haven’t heard that any adult educator got higher salaries because of having the vocational certificate. Never the less the system of vocational certificates seems to have a positive influence on the general authority of adult educators. In this way adult educator has changed from hobby to profession. Every time I begin working with a new group I do not forget to mention in the introduction that I also have the 4th degree adult educator’s certificate. “