8 - peatükk

Right to education

Aivi Remmelg

Political and institutional developments

The Constitution of the Republic of Estonia states every person’s right to education and the school children’s obligation to study in the extent provided by law, whereas studying at state and local government general education schools is free of charge.[1] Donations asked from parents, entrance exams to so-called elite schools and the funding issues of private schools made the Chancellor of Justice address the Riigikogu on the topic of constitutionality of organisation of basic education.

By accepting monetary contributions from parents in “elite schools”, whether it is called a donation or anything else, a hybrid of municipal and private school is created, which further increases the advantages of children from better socio-economic backgrounds in comparison to other children and thereby increasingly contributes to process of stratification of education.[2] From the point of view of the parent and the child there is no difference in which level of the public authority is responsible for availability of good-quality and free basic education, therefore the Chancellor of Justice says it cannot be ruled out that “in the future Estonia will look at guaranteeing basic education as a task of the state.”[3] In the appraisal of Ülle Madise every child has the right to receive a free decent quality basic education, which affords the best basis for advancing in life. “It is the task of the state to choose a model, which does actually provide that. At the moment we do not have that. Educational stratification is increasing.”[4] The intended amendment to an act of law, which would remove the local governments’ duty to participate in covering costs for private general education school, is in concordance with the constitution according to Ülle Madise’s appraisal. The current decision to support private schools belongs to choices in educational politics, but does not stem from the constitution.[5]

In 2014 the Chancellor Justice initiated proceedings to investigate whether students of Tallinn English College have the constitutional right to study at a municipal school free of tuition.[6] At the moment the parents are financing curricular education via donations. Intensive study of English language is not extracurricular, therefore it is forbidden to demand money from the parents to carry out these lessons. The Chancellor of Justice made a proposal to the city of Tallinn to cover the cost of teaching foreign languages to the extent provided by the curriculum in the future.[7] The serious nature of the problem is that the Tallinn English College case is not an exception, and needs interference on state level.

Despite the wonderful results of the PISA 2012 survey[8] there is reason to worry about the future of education. According to Reemo Voltri, the president of Estonian Education Personnel Union, the greatest problem are the low wages of teachers. “If we compare our wages to those in OECD countries, it is the smallest. Another problem is that our teachers are getting older.”[9] The education personnel would like to have a discussion about what is going to happen in the following years, in other words, a sense of security and fulfilment of agreements in the future in order to guarantee a new generation of teachers.

Reform of higher education, which went ahead in 2013 can be considered the greatest change that took place in Estonian education.[10] It is too early to draw significant conclusions on the results of the reform after such a short period, however, new proposals for reforming higher education are already being discussed. The so-called G. Okk report[11] composed to the order of Research and Development Council on courses of action[12] of Estonian universities and other scientific research establishments gives ideas for further discussions. Making cardinal changes over such a short time gives reason to ask whether education policy decisions are based on sufficient research and whether specialists from various fields have been included in the process.

Legislative developments

Making the education cost support allocated for running municipal schools in counties and towns more flexible brought about amending the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act, which would allow, among other things, to cover the personnel cost for support specialists, as well as the state and local governments to divide the responsibility among themselves.[13]

The needs-based study allowance was created in order to support young people from low-income families in acquiring a higher education, but a remarkable part of the target group was left without support. The system for applying for needs-based study allowance was changed and those who had not qualified for the main support were given the opportunity to apply for needs-based special allowance.[14]

The new Child Protection Act[15] claims that violence has no part in raising children. It was pointed out in the course of drawing up the draft act the cooperation between various levels of education and cooperation across different fields is insufficient.[16] “Better cooperation across different fields would allow to apply preventative interference more effectively.”[17]

One of the purposes for amending the Preschool Child Care Institutions Act[18] was to clarify the obligations of towns and rural municipalities in guaranteeing kindergarten placements. Numerous court disputes on this topic brought on the need for clarification.

Court practice

The Chancellor of Justice’s 2013 annual report that was published in 2014 pointed out that, as in several previous years, a large portion of problems had to do with providing the service of preschool child care. The Chancellor advised applicants to turn to court in case of lack of kindergarten placements, since if the placement is not guaranteed the local government is breaking the law and the court has coercive measures in place to guarantee execution of a court judgments.[19] By this time the judgments in earlier court disputes in this field have had a positive effect and the act of law[20] also regulates the opportunities for organising child care for local governments.

However, the problem of funding operating costs of private schools is still not solved.[21] City of Tallinn was obliged to participate in covering operating costs for a private general education school in proportion to the students whose residence according to population register was in town. The school submitted an application with the administrative court for imposing a fine for failure to execute a court judgment, which the city contested in court; the solution came from the Supreme Court who left the ruling of lower courts unchanged.[22] The stance of the Supreme Court in an analogous complaint[23] provides and answer to the city’s objections that despite the obligation stemming from law they lack the budgetary means for that purpose. The Supreme Court explained further that covering operating costs of private schools is a duty of the state that has been placed on local governments. In 2014 the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the fact that the state does not provide local governments the necessary money to cover the operating costs of private schools. Despite this local government units cannot challenge their duty to private schools. The Supreme Court noted that if no money has been allocated for funding the duty of the state or insufficient amount has been allocated, the local government has the right to demand the state for money lacking to cover the duty of the state in court.

The unconstitutional situation does not prevent private schools from filing an appeal with an administrative court. The legal foundation for the claim comes from the ruling of the Constitutional Review Chamber of the Supreme Court[24] for as long as the state’s monetary obligation for local governments is stated by an act of law. The 2015 court action[25] already refers to the Constitutional Review Chamber of the Supreme Court ruling in case no. 3-4-1-26-14.

Statistics and surveys

Based on Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and § 44 of the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act the school has the obligation to guarantee the protection of the student’s mental and physical safety and protection of health for the duration of staying at school. Risk Behaviour Awareness Study[26] confirms that a large part of students in Estonia experience bullying at school, which decreases in higher age brackets. One in four students has experienced physical violence. Teachers also mention significant contact with mental violence. The form-masters believe there are obstacles when solving problems to do with reluctance of students and their parents to cooperate. Teachers themselves evaluate their knowledge and skills at handling cases of violence to rather be good and the school’s opportunities for solving situations are considered the greater shortcoming.

The children’s deviant behaviour study[27] states that bullying in school has somewhat decreased in comparison to 2006, however, there are a lot of children for whom school is not a safe environment and it is necessary to implement state sanctioned support mechanisms for teachers as well as for students.

Right to education does not only mean up to school leaving age. Article 13(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights[28] acknowledges every person’s right to education. As the population of Estonia is decreasing we are in a situation where around a third of the population of working age has a low level of education, where unemployment is the largest.[29] The Praxis analysis indicates that precisely the people with the lowest level of education have problems using opportunities of lifelong learning. The reasons for this are economic hardship, low level of motivation to study and low awareness of opportunities to study, also the fact that in Estonia vocational training is mainly offered as daytime study, which makes access to education services more difficult.

Improving the minimum wage for teachers at basic schools and upper secondary schools is part of valuing the teaching profession. The minimum wage for teachers[30] was raised to 900 euros, increasing 12.5% in comparison to 2013. According to the education statistics the average gross wages for teachers at municipal schools exceeded 1002 euros as of November of last year.[31]

The situation of secondary and higher education is indicated in survey on education called Education and Skills,[32] where among other things attention is paid to skills of teachers. The biggest problem area is the low level of skills of graduates of teacher training. Therefore, all policies influencing attractive nature of the teaching profession, improving the level of teacher training and supporting further development of those who have already graduated, are vital.[33]

According to the Minister of Education the rights of teachers should be extended as it would improve them coping with problem situations: “at the moment, a great obstacle in choosing the teaching profession is the fact that it is not known what can be done to prevent problems in this profession.”[34]

Good practices

The child’s right to a safe and free from violence school environment stems from Article 19[35] in cooperation with Articles 28 and 29 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The child has a right to childhood that is free from violence. The child must be protected from violence at home, at school and elsewhere.

Article 28 states the child’s right to education and Article 29 specifies achieving which purpose the education must be aimed, e.g. the right to education is guaranteed if the child is safe at school.[36] The opportunities for creating a safe school environment must be created by the school operator (for example the local government) and organised by the head of school. Internal rules of a school must explain how situations threatening safety of students and workers at school are prevented and how they will be reacted to, also how such cases are notified and solved.[37]

One of the positive initiatives for guaranteeing safety at school is the free from bullying program KiVa, which more than 30 schools have joined in 2015/2016 academic year. It is a research based program, which was created with the support of University of Turku, Finland, with funding from the Ministry of Education and Culture. The survey carried out in schools that participated in the pilot project showed that the number of victims dropped by 17.2% as a result of KiVa.[38]

As children’s attitudes and social relations start already in kindergarten the anti-bullying preventative work must start early. The project of Estonian Union for Child Welfare “Bullying-free Preschool and School” has achieved good results. Effectivity of methodology from Denmark preventing bullying is proved by surveys accompanying the implementation. This methodology is already in use in two thirds of preschools and 81 schools in Estonia.[39]

The teachers must have in addition to knowledge of the subjects also communication skills, knowledge for recognizing bullying and dealing with situations of bullying. It is also important to have school psychologists, social pedagogues and other support specialists in schools.

Noteworthy public discussions

The tragic incident that took place in 2014 has raised the issue of safety in school. The school shooting, which took place on October 27th at Paalalinna upper secondary school in Viljandi, where a 9th form student shot a teacher from a firearm during class who died of injuries shocked the whole of Estonia. The background for such behaviour has been discussed on various levels. There is agreement that in addition to guaranteeing security we must also look for reasons, which may influence such behaviour, and deal with them. The Chancellor of Justice Indrek Teder emphasizes that there is no more profound duty than guaranteeing the rights of children and protection of their wellbeing.[40] States that have joined the UN Convention for the Rights of the Child[41] have taken on the obligation to guarantee it. Preventing violence against children also significantly reduces violent behaviour of children themselves and other risk behaviour.[42]

The highly topical issue of receiving refugees also has an effect on our schools – whether we are ready to teach children who cannot speak Estonian when they come to school. These children whose knowledge of Estonian is not sufficient for managing in school are called new immigrant students[43] in Estonian education system. They could be of another nationality as well as citizens of Estonian origin who have spent a considerable time in a foreign country and their language skills are insufficient for managing in school. The Chancellor of Justice drew attention to the problem where a school has not succeeded in carrying out studies due to the child’s special[44] educational needs.[45] The act of law does not directly say how to organize studies if a child has special educational needs. The school has to choose support methods considering the needs of the specific child and consider the child’s best interests.[46]


  • Stop the unconstitutional situation and provide local governments the necessary money from the state for covering operating costs.
  • Provide all basic school students the opportunity to study free of charge.
  • Guarantee state funding for implementing research based anti-bullying methods from preschool to high school.
  • Value the teaching profession in order to provide there is a new generation of teachers.



[1] The Constitution of the Republic of Estonia § 37.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Põhihariduse korralduse põhiseaduspärasusest [On constitutionality of the basic education] .Õiguskantsleri kirjalik ettekanne Riigikogule [A written report of the Chancellor of Justice to the Riigikogu]. 26.08.2015.

[4] Maiste, V.S. Eliitkoolid soosivad vanemate uhkust, mitte andekaid [Elite schools favour the pride of parents, not the gifted]. Sirp, 4 September 2015. Available at:

http://www.sirp.ee/s1-artiklid/c9-sotsiaalia/eliitkoolid-soosivad-vanemate-uhkust-mitte-andekaid. (4.09.2015).

[5] Madise – erakoolide rahastamise muutus on põhiseadusega kooskolas [Madise – amendment to funding of private schools in accordance with the constitution]. Postimees. 3 November 2015. Available at:

http://www.postimees.ee/3385579/madise-erakoolide-rahastamise-muutus-on-pohiseadusega-kooskolas (5.09.2015).

[6] The Constitution of the Republic of Estonia § 37 lg 1.

[7] Õiguskantsler: Tallinna Inglise Kolledži õpilastele ei ole tagatud põhiseadusest tulenevat õigust õppida munitsipaalkoolis ilma õppemaksuta [The Chancellor of Justice: the students of Tallinn English College are not guaranteed the constitutional right to study at a municipal school without a fee]. Office of Chancellor of Justice. 1.07.2015. Available at:

http://oiguskantsler.ee/et/oiguskantsler-tallinna-inglise-kolledzi-opilastele-ei-ole-tagatud-pohiseadusest-tulenevat-oigust. (4.09.2015).

[8] Pisa 2012 results. Available at: http://www.hm.ee/index.php?0513776. (12.09.2015).

[9] Kattago, D. 2015. Haridustöötajate Liit: õpetajate palk peab olema „väga hea“, mitte „normaalne“ [Estonian Education Personnel Union: the teachers’ wage should be “very good”, and not “okay”].

Pealinn. 17 April 2015.

[10] Rahastamisreform ehk üleminek tegevustoetuse süsteemile [The funding reform or switching to the system of activity support]. Available at: http://www.hm.ee/index.php?popup=download&id=12053. (13.09.2015).

[11] Okk, G. 2015. Eesti ülikoolide, teadusasutuste ja rakenduskõrgkoolide võrgu ja tegevussuundade raport [report on frameworks and courses of action of Estonian universities, scientific research establishments and institutions of professional higher education]. Available at: https://riigikantselei.ee/sites/default/files/riigikantselei/strateegiaburoo/eutarkvt_loppraport.pdf. (06.09.2015).

[12] The Estonian Research and Development and Innovation Strategy 2014–2020 “Knowledge-based Estonia” which was the Riigikogu approved on 22 January 2014 sets as its tasks to “support development of responsibility domains of institutions of higher education and scientific research establishments and development institution, structural changes, focusing on strategic main activities and organizing framework of institutions; increasing scientific institutions’ responsibility for performance of their activities”. 2014. Available at: https://www.hm.ee/sites/default/files/59705_teadmistepohine_eesti_est.pdf. (2.09.2015).

[13] Põhikooli- ja gümnaasiumiseaduse muutmise eelnõu [Act amending the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act] 799 SE.

[14] Õppetoetuste ja õppelaenu seaduse muutmise ja sellega seonduvalt teiste seaduste muutmise seadus [Act amending the Study Allowances and Study Loans Act and other related acts] State Gazette I. 04.12.2014, 4.

[15] Child Protection Act. State Gazette I. 06.12.2014, 1.

[16] Public Governance Reviews. Estonia. Towards a Single Government Approach. Assessment and Recommendations. 2011. OECD. Available at: http://www.valitsus.ee/UserFiles/valitsus/et/riigikantselei/uldinfo/dokumendiregister/Uuringud/OECD_Public%20Governance%20Review_Estonia_full%20report.pdf

[17] Draft Act to Child Protection Act 677 SE II.

[18] Koolieelse lasteasutuse seaduse muutmise seadus [Act amending the Preschool Child Care Institutions Act]. State Gazette I. 20.11.2014, 2.

[19] Õiguskantsleri 2013. aasta tegevuse ülevaade [Chancellor of Justice’s 2013 annual report]. 2014. Available at: http://oiguskantsler.ee/sites/default/files/oiguskantsleri__tegevuse_ulevaade_2013.pdf. (16.08.2015).

[20] Koolieelse lasteasutuse seaduse muutmise seadus [Act amending the Preschool Child Care Institutions Act]. State Gazette I. 20.11.2014, 2.

[21] Vt õiguskantsleri ettekanne Riigikogule: Põhihariduse korralduse põhiseaduspärasusest [On constitutionality of the basic education]. Õiguskantsleri kirjalik ettekanne Riigikogule [A written report of the Chancellor of Justice to the Riigikogu]. 26.08.2015.

[22] Court ruling of Administrative Law Chamber of the Supreme Court no. 3-3-1-11-14 of 29.05.2014.

[23] Constitutional Review Chamber of the Supreme Court judgment no. 3-4-1-26-14 of 28.10.2014.

[24] Constitutional Review Chamber of the Supreme Court judgment no. 3-4-1-26-14 of 28.10.2014.

[25] Administrative Law Chamber of the Supreme Court judgment no. 3-3-1-84-14 of 21.05.2015.

[26] Riskikäitumise teadlikkuse uuring kolmes sihtrühmas [Risk Behaviour Awareness Study]. 2014. Available at: https://www.politsei.ee/dotAsset/331164.pdf. (22.08.2015).

[27] Lühiülevaade laste hälbiva käitumise uuringust (ISRD-3) [A short overview of children’s deviant behavior study]. 2014.

Available at: https://www.just.ee/sites/www.just.ee/files/laste_halbiva_kaitumise_uuringu_kokkuvote.pdf . (22.08.2015).

[28] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. State Gazette II 1993, 10, 13.

[29] Haaristo, H.S. 2014. Mida lubatakse madala haridustasemega inimestele? [What is promised to persons with lower educational levels?] Available at: http://mottehommik.praxis.ee/mida-lubatakse-madala-haridustasemega-inimesele/. (23.08.2015).

[30] Põhikooli ja gümnaasiumi õpetaja töötasu alammäär [Minimum wage for teachers at basic and high school]. Regulation of Government of Republic. State Gazette I, 23.12.2014, 12.

[31] Haridusstatistika [Statistics of education]. Available at: www.HaridusSilm.ee. (3.09.2015).

[32] Haridus ja oskused [Education and skills]. PIAAC uuringu temaatiline aruanne nr 6 [Thematic report no. 6 of the PIAAC survey]. 2015.

Available at: http://dspace.utlib.ee/dspace/bitstream/handle/10062/46963/PIAAC6aruanne_haridus_oskused.pdf?sequence=1.


[33] Haridus ja oskused [Education and skills]. PIAAC uuringu temaatiline aruanne nr 6 [Thematic report no. 6 of the PIAAC survey]. 2015.

Available at: http://dspace.utlib.ee/dspace/bitstream/handle/10062/46963/PIAAC6aruanne_haridus_oskused.pdf?sequence=1.


[34] Mäe, I. Noorte õpetajate vähesus on jätkuvalt probleem [Dearth of young teachers continues to be a problem]. Postimees. 12 August 2015. Available at: http://www.postimees.ee/3291641/noorte-opetajate-vahesus-on-jatkuvalt-probleem.

[35] Convention on the Rights of the Child. State Gazette II 1996, 16, 56.

[36] Kool kiusamisest vabaks [Getting rid of school bullying]. Available at: http://lasteombudsman.ee/koolikiusamine/koolikeskkond.html. (29.09.2015).

[37] Ibid.

[38] SA Kiusamisvaba Kool [Foundation bullying-free school]. Available at: www.kivaprogram.net/estonia/sa_kiusamisvaba_kool/missioon_ja_tegevused. (14.08.2015).

[39] Kiusamisest vabaks [Getting rid of bullying]. Available at: www.lastekaitseliit.ee. (14.08.2015).

[40] Teder, I. 2014. Laste ja noorte heaolu parandamine ning sotsiaalse tõrjutuse ennetamine [Improving the wellbeing of children and youths and preventing social exclusion]. Tallinn. Available at: http://oiguskantsler.ee/et/indrek-tederi-kone-konverentsil-laste-ja-noorte-heaolu-parandamine-ning-sotsiaalse-torjutuse. (15.08.2015).

[41] Convention on the Rights of the Child. State Gazette II 1996, 16, 56.

[42] Teder, I. 2014. Laste ja noorte heaolu parandamine ning sotsiaalse tõrjutuse ennetamine [Improving the wellbeing of children and youths and preventing social exclusion]. Tallinn. Available at: http://oiguskantsler.ee/et/indrek-tederi-kone-konverentsil-laste-ja-noorte-heaolu-parandamine-ning-sotsiaalse-torjutuse. (15.08.2015).

[43] „Uusimmigrantide lapsed Eesti hariduses. Hariduspoliitilised põhimõtted ja hariduskorraldus” [Children of new immigrants in Estonian education. Principles of education policy and education organization]. Available at: http://www.meis.ee/bw_client_files/integratsiooni_sihtasutus/public/img/File/Uusimmigrantide_lapsed_Hariduspoliitilised_pohimotted.pdf. (12.09.2015).

Children of new immigrants are considered to be children of migrants from the European Union, but also from third countries, children of asylum seekers and refugees, who wish to start studying in Estonian schools and who have lived in / stayed in Estonia for less than three years. In addition to persons of other nationalities also families of Estonian origin who have lived in a foreign country long term, whose children have been born there and who have spent a great part of their lives in a foreign country and who also have problems with Estonian language skills because of it may also belong to the group of new immigrants.

[44] A student with insufficient language skill is also considered a child with a special educational need.

[45] Õiguskantsler: Soovitus õiguspärasuse ja hea halduse tava järgimiseks. Ebapiisava eesti keele oskusega lapse õpetamine [Chancellor of Justice: Recommendation for following legislative and good admnistrative custom. Teaching a child with insufficient Estonian language skills]. 17.02.2014.

Available at: http://oiguskantsler.ee/sites/default/files/field_document2/6iguskantsleri_soovitus_pohioiguste_ja_-_vabaduste_paremaks_tagamiseks_ebapiisava_eesti_keele_oskusega_lapse_opetamine.pdf. (13.09.2015).

[46] Kivioja, A. „Kui kooli tuleb uusimmigrandi laps.“ [If a child of a new immigrant comes to school] Õpetajate Leht. 14 March 2014.