Education still seems to be valued as the first version of the state budget included an exceptional slight raise for teachers’ salaries. In the current version teachers are the only state-employed workers whose salaries are not cut. The state account deficit is so extraordinary that recently a radio program ended with “lets hope that Estonia will still exist tomorrow”. Construction materials have become cheaper and the ministry of education is planning to invest in renovation of schools. But on the other hand there is still no emergency plan of occupational retraining for the 40 000 unemployed construction workers.
Value-based educational strategy
Nevertheless occasional movement could be noticed in the field of adult education, too. In the end of January the Ministry of Education organised a discussion about possible strategies for Life Long Learning. Participants included the Estonian Non-Formal Education Union, Estonian Collaboration Summit, Estonian Educational Forum, Estonian Adult Education Association Andras, the Tallinn University, the Ministry of Social Affairs as well as the Ministry of Education. Peeter Kreitzberg represented the Estonian parliament and the talks were moderated by Ülo Kaevats, professor of philosophy at the Technical University of Tallinn.
The connections between the current economic downturn and education could not be ignored in the talks. Larissa Jõgi, the director of the department of adult education studies at Tallinn University pointed out the tendency of adult education becoming increasingly limited to occupational retraining due to the crisis. She pointed out that the Life Long Learning strategic plan should still set its main focus on the development of individuals. As many other European countries Estonia tends to prioritize the learning rather than the learners. Why are the individual needs of the learner so important? An answer could be a quote by Jaan Männik, the head of commission of Bank of Estonia who has said that people get hired because of their skills but fired because of their personal traits.
The discussions concluded with a common agreement that the Life Long Learning strategy should lay its foundation on values. Personal values such as persistence and reliability, ability to collaborate, the will and skills to learn, courage to cross difficult boundaries, is what people can rely on in critical situations too.
Even economy requires universal competencies
Kristi Loogma, director of the Estonian Institute of Educational Research agrees that education should not become limited to occupational training and added that the new economy is setting new challenges on education. The reason is that now everything is in constant change. New branches of economy, specializations and professions appear daily. This presupposes an education that supports courage to take risks and cross unknown boundaries. Secondly the new economy requires increasingly more creativity. These days creating new Nokias is a must. But creativity is a personal trait rather than knowledge and skills. Thirdly the issue of virtual environments needs to be addressed. Dialogues and debates, creation of new ideas and identities are moving into virtual environments. But how ready are our people for virtual exchange if they only dare to participate anonymously.
Adult education is not limited to occupational training – this is self-evident in the Nordic countries, which have the Grudtvig tradition, but in the Baltic countries explanations are still needed.
Secondary education is the foundation
What would be the foundation for value-based Life Long Learning? Secondary education, Krista Loogma suggests. She has investigated the situation of adult education in various Estonian firms and most company owners agreed that workers with secondary education are more creative, responsible, flexible, show initiative and are better in teamwork than people with basic education. Secondary education gives a good foundation to Life Long Learning and readiness to cope in the changing environment. Secondary education is also crucial for individual development, Loogna sais. Unemployed people, especially young people who have not completed secondary education should first of all get a good secondary education and only then proceed to learn a new occupation. Paradoxical that even though secondary education was compulsory during the Soviet Union it is no longer self-evident to many people.
Responses to the discussion about strategies for Life Long Learning have been few. This topic seems too philosophical and far from life at a time where immediate action is what seems to count. The Estonian government talks about how to cut the state budget – whether to reduce salaries and retirement benefits, devaluate the Estonian crown, cut defence costs, take a bigger foreign loan, cut jobs, raise taxes etc. The government has even had overnight discussions on these topics and it is understandable that there is no time to talk about adult education.