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EACEA National Policies Platform


6. Education and Training

6.6 Social inclusion through education and training

Last update: 28 November 2023
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  1. Educational support
  2. Social cohesion and equal opportunities

Educational support

The target groups identified in official documents

The term "student with special educational needs" refers in Estonia to a student whose talent, learning difficulties, health status, disability, behavioural and emotional disorders, longer-term absence from schooling or insufficient proficiency in language of instruction of a school bring about the need to make changes or adjustments in the subject matter, process, duration, workload or environment of study (e.g., teaching materials, school rooms, language of communication, including a sign language or other alternative means of communication, support staff, teachers who have received special training), in the expected learning outcomes or in the work plan drawn up by a teacher for working with a class.

The term “higher education student with a special need” is applied for a student who has a hearing, vision or movement disability or a special psychical need or any other disability with functional impairment due to which he or she requires support services for participation in the study and successful studying.

Students in threat of being excluded from education include students with socio-economic difficulties, behavioural disorders and problems, students whose mother language is other than the language of instruction, new immigrants, health-related problems.

Policies in the context of formal education

According to the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia, everyone has the right to education. According to the Education Act and the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act,  Estonia has an inclusive education policy and every child has the right to attend a preschool child care institution of his or her residence area or study, according to a curriculum of an appropriate level (the national curriculum for basic schools, the national curriculum for upper secondary schools, the simplified national curriculum for basic schools), in an ordinary class of a school close to home and to receive different kinds of support to study.

The general objectives of education of students with special needs are not different from the general objectives of the corresponding educational level and do not depend on whether it is conducted in mainstream or in special schools. According to the general concept of disability policy of the Republic of Estonia, equal rights to preschool, basic, secondary and higher education must be guaranteed for people with special needs. Please consult the section “Educational Support and Guidance“ in Eurydice for further information.

Programmes/projects/initiatives in non-formal learning, informal learning, and youth work

“Inclusion of youth at risk of exclusion and improvement of youth employability” is a governmental programme supported through European Social Fund and implemented until 2023. During this period, many different sub-programmes are implemented (the Youth Prop-Up Programme, the Youth Summer Work Programme, Community Practice, Mobile Workshops, Youth Initiatives) aimed at supporting youth participation in youth work, education and/or employment, paying special attention to youth at risk of exclusion. Most of the activities have ended, but some still continue until the end of the programme. In addition to these programmes, support is also provided to local governments to develop and improve their youth work services in order to reach youth currently not taking part in youth work and provide young people with more opportunities to participate in youth work. For this, local governments must co-operate with each other. Together they map the situation of youth work (i.e., available youth work services, available youth workers, the number of young people, etc.) and plan activities that best meet the needs of young people and the local communities. In addition, we have planned activities to increase knowledge about young people and the effectiveness of youth work measures created for them (this includes among other things various analysis and studies). Furthermore, through the programme, youth workers are provided various training opportunities (several long-term and thematic training activities are focused on inclusion, e.g., how to involve more young people in NEET status, how to develop an awareness of intercultural learning and diversity in youth work, etc.).

EEA grants programme “Children and Youth at Risk” – a programme implemented in 2012-2017.  The aim of the programme was to improve the well-being of children and young people at risk. For this, many different projects were implemented. For example, the HUKK-AP project (involving and developing hobby schools) was aimed to create more opportunities for young people to take part in youth work and to increase their competences for continuing education or for being successful in the labour market. As a result of the project, 3 231 young people with fewer opportunities participated in hobby activities, 69 new regional hobby groups were established and 1647 specialists working participated in training and mentoring. All of this has helped to make hobby schools more inclusive. The HUKK-AP Project - Involvement of Organisations Working in Area of Hobby Education for Young People – was initiated by the Ministry of Education and Research and implemented by Archimedes Foundation Youth Agency (since 01.01.2021 the Department of Youth Programs of the Agency of Erasmus+ and European Solidarity Corps of the Education and Youth Board). The aim of the programme was to support the variety of hobby activities, their efficiency and suitability for youngsters` needs. The objective is to create prerequisites and working solutions in order to involve disadvantaged youngsters in hobby education. It is important to support opportunities for participating, introduce new methods and increase competencies of educators that enable to increase access of disadvantaged young people to hobby education, mostly in the are of culture and art education.

The main directions of activities:

  1. increasing the capability of hobby schools to involve young people with fewer opportunities systematically;
  2. promoting hobby activities in new priority target groups;
  3. involving young people with fewer opportunities into hobby activities;
  4. monitoring and assessing the impact of the project and hobby education.

Developing youth workers training“ is a governmental programme supported through European Social Fund and implemented in 2015-2019, which aimed to provide youth workers with training opportunities and developed the methodology in youth work and quality of training. The total budget of the programme was 1.89 million euros.

Youth Meetings is a programme established to increase interactions between young people from a different ethnic background and thus increase their mutual understanding and development but also to enhance their cultural awareness, openness and tolerance. Through the programme, organisers promote positive contacts between young people (11 to 16 years-of-age) living in Estonia but speaking different mother tongues (mainly Estonian and Russian) by giving them an opportunity to carry out projects together. These projects detail the goals and targets they expect to achieve. “Youth Meetings” has been very popular since its creation in 2015 with 1,551 Estonian and Russian speaking young people participating yearly in the project. Altogether, “Youth Meetings” has brought together around 1,700 young people annually. The “Youth Meetings” programme is financed through the Ministry of Education and Research. The budget for the programme in 2020 was 234,022 euros.

Estonian Youth Agency (since 01.01.2021 the Department of Youth Programs of the Agency of Erasmus+ and European Solidarity Corps of the Education and Youth Board) together with 14 other agencies for Erasmus+ youth activities, initiated and was involved in a strategic co-operation “Strategic Partnership on inclusion” – SPI - to involve more inclusion organisations and increase the participation of young people with fewer opportunities by capacity building and their involvement in the E+ programme. The consortium of agencies has developed a strategic approach to reach out and involve three target groups: young people with disability/health problems, young people with low education attainment and young people from disadvantaged rural areas – i.e., young people that are underrepresented in Erasmus+ in different countries. In 2017, a new strand was initiated together with Latvian and Lithuanian agencies and other partners to work more strategically with young people in NEET situations. Long-term results are yet to be seen since the partnership is halfway on its first cycle.

In addition, Estonian Youth Work magazine MIHUS has focused on issues such as inclusion and solidarity among young people:

  1. Youth work with young people with fewer opportunities (2010),
  2. Youth work and sensitivity towards different cultures (2016).

In addition, a manual for inclusive youth work has been created and published in Estonian and Russian languages: “Inclusive youth work” (2012). 

Social cohesion and equal opportunities

Policies in formal education

Citizenship education exists as a compulsory separate subject both in primary and secondary education in Estonia. The length of time it is taught as a compulsory subject 5 years. Please consult Citizenship Education in Europe. Eurydice Report for detail information.

The activities in education to support social cohesion are based on the “Integrating Estonia 2020”. Integrating Estonia 2020 is a strategy of the Government to ensure integration and social cohesion in Estonia in the period 2014-2020. The general objective of the “Integrating Estonia 2020” is a socially cohesive society where individuals with different linguistic and cultural backgrounds actively participate in society and share democratic values. The plan serves as the basis for integration policy that is carried out during 2014–2020, and it aims at:

  • increasing the cohesion of society;
  • increasing the competitiveness of the Republic of Estonia;
  • ensuring security;
  • preserving the Estonian language and culture;
  • preserving the culture and language of the ethnic minorities;
  • ensuring increasing tolerance towards different groups of society;
  • ensuring a stronger civic identity.

The estimated total cost of the development plan from 2014–2020 is 73.52 million euros.

In 2017, the Ministry of Education and Research developed a “Concept for education path without bullying” – a document stating the main understanding of bullying, its prevention and interventions in Estonia. It lists main programmes available to address bullying through all levels of education. The concept does not ensure public funding for the programmes.

Programmes/projects/initiatives in the context of non-formal and informal learning, and youth work,

In Estonia, the main aim of activities in the youth field for the years 2014-2020 is to support establishing a coherent and creative society through development and self-realisation possibilities provided for young people. Please see chapter  4.7. Youth work to foster social inclusion and chapter 8.9 Enhancing social inclusion through culture for the overview of main programmes, projects and initiatives of youth work and non-formal learning.