It was proposed back then that quality should be evaluated on three different levels: 1) level of the educational centre, 2) level of the study program and 3) level of the educators. AEAE Andras then attempted to investigate the quality of educational centres and their programs, and sent out questionnaires to gather direct information. Unfortunately only very few educational centres responded and the whole investigation went on standby.
Licensing study programs
In 1999 the second round began – by this time the Estonian Ministry for Education was already interested in the quality of adult education, but only one of the three levels was under focus – the level of study programme. The evaluation of educational centres and adult educators was put aside. But the evaluation of study programs got positive responses from the learners and the educators likewise. Study programmes that are licensed by the ministry allow the learners to trust the education centre and secondly these officially licensed study programs are financially beneficial, too – learners can get a tax refund for the tuition fee. The larger educational institutions have licensed many of their programmes for this reason.
Qualification course for adult educator
But the other two levels of evaluation – the licensing of educational centres and educators – was not forgotten. Here once again the initiative was taken by the third sector. In the beginning of the new millennium AEAE Andras launched a qualification course for adult educators. This was a competence-based training: acquiring the necessary knowledge, skills and attitudes and putting these in practice. The course consisted of 400 hours, of which 160 face to face study and the remaining 240 hours independent work and the completion of a dissertation paper. A few years later, in 2007 the Estonian Non-Formal Education Association initiated once again the evaluation of educational centres.
Andras also received the licence from the Ministry of Education for their adult educators’ qualification course. At that time the people in the ministry noted that Andras is rushing ahead of their time – the educators’ professional qualifications had still not been defined but the qualification course was already there, Talvi Märja remembers. The carriage is running ahead of the horse, as the old Estonian saying goes. But practice showed that this programme was developed at the right time: many people were interested to complete it and the interest has stayed high until today. Another reason for the popularity of the course could be that it is taught by three well-known and respected professors of the Tallinn University: Talvi Märja, Lembit Türnpu and Ülo Vooglaid.
Defining the professional standards
The fourth stage in the evaluation of quality of adult education began in 2002 when the head of direction, Talvi Märja and the head of education and development centre of Andras, Merle Lõhmus assembled a working group on the professional standards of adult educators. The working group consisted of the Ministry of Education and Research of Estonia (Terje Haidak), Estonian Non-formal Adult Education Association (Tiina Jääger), Technical University of Tallinn (Sirje Orvet), Tallinn Pedagogical University (Larissa Jõgi), Andras (Kaja Rozdestvenski), educational centres NK Koolituse OÜ (Veera Litvintseva) and Vastus OÜ (Jelena Rootamm-Valter). By the end of 2002 the adult educator's professional qualification III, IV and V was compiled, and sent around for feedback from adult educators as well as learners.
What is interesting here is that again the carriage is running ahead of the horse. The Estonian Qualification Authority - - the professional council of education did not exist at that time yet. Andras found a solution here and let the qualification of adult educators’ be authorised by the council of commercial service and other business activities. Many adult educators are involved in business training, and therefore it was quite natural to be licensed by the council of commercial service, Talvi Märja explains. The adult educator's professional qualifications III, IV and V were authorized on February 3rd, 2003.
Andras as the professional umbrella organization was given the status of a qualifier organ in 2003 and in 2004 a vocational commission of adult educators was assembled which assigned professional certificates to adult educators. Certificates have been given out eight times by now and a total of 101 adult educators have the professional certificate in Estonia.
New vocational standards
The fifth stage in evaluating adult education in Estonia started in May 2007. The professional qualifications of adult educators became more competence-based. A new level, II level, was added in order to motivate educators at the beginning of their career. The new standard is also taking in account previous study and work experience. For example the teachers of adult gymnasia can now apply for a professional certificate without completing the qualification course if they have at least 8 years of teaching experience. The applicant proposes the level he or she believes to have and provides documents that prove the self-evaluation. For the examination the educator compiles a professional portfolio. And often the members of the vocational exam commission attend the applicant’s activities at his or her workplace as supervisors.
Collaboration with the European Union
The sixth stage will be probably a unification of the Estonian adult educators’ professional standards with the eight level qualification system of the European Union. At the moment the Estonian qualification standards consist of four levels (the lowest level is still missing) and the requirements are rather strict – a vocational qualification course has to be completed. The fifth level requires a doctors degree and the fourth level a masters degree. The implementation of the eight-level system will add some intermediate steps and make the system milder, Talvi Märja hopes. She herself has the fifth level professional certificate.
One of the goals of the European Union is that by the year 2011 all adult educators have a professional certificate. When Estonia will reach this goal is still difficult to predict, Talvi Märja says. The qualification of adult educator is in Estonia still a secondary qualification, as the majority of adult educators work only part time. As it is a secondary qualification the acquiring of a professional certificate is voluntary and up to the individual. But in spite of that Andras is planning to organize new qualification courses outside of Tallinn and Tartu, in smaller towns such as Rakvere, Pärnu etc.
Professor Märja says that the completion of the qualification course and acquiring of a professional certificate should first of all become compulsory in the vocational schools that are supported by the structural funds of the European Union. This idea is also supported by the fact that many educators in the vocational schools already show great interest in acquiring professional certificates. In the summer of 2007 a qualification course at the Tartu Vocational Educational Centre took place where the majority of participants were teachers of the vocational school and all of them applied for the professional certificate.
Professor Talvi Märja
has a crucial role to play in the development of adult education in Estonia: she is the founder of the faculty of education sciences in Tallinn University (1986), founding member of the Estonian Non-Formal Association Andras (1991) and its long-time president (1991-2003). She initiated the work on Estonian Adult Education Act (1993), the professional standards of adult educator (2002) and until today she is the vice-president of the assigning commission of adult educators’ professional certificates. From 1996 until 1999 she supported adult education in the Estonian parliament as the head of the cultural commission. Talvi Märja is a long-time representative of Estonian adult education in Europe and the world: as vice-president of EAEA (1995-2002) and as board member of ESREA.
Certificate Supplement: www.kutsekoda.ee