The large framework for compulsory education is Estonia is regulated nationally, but the schools have still some freedom in developing their own profiles and syllabi. The compulsory school attendance is for the children aged 7-16, when children study at Basic school. After graduating from it, students can attend upper secondary school, a secondary vocational school, or enter a profession. Religious Education is an optional subject in Estonia and it must adhere to the national syllabus.
The majority of Estonian schools are public with only few private schools. There are eleven private Christian schools which have formed the Union of Estonian Christian Private to develop education in Estonia based on Christian values (http://www.kristlik.edu.ee/eng/).
In Estonian legislation a distinction is made between the confessional subject ‘usuõpetus’ taught only in private schools, and non-confessional subject ‘usundiõpetus’ about world religions, taught in municipal and state general education schools both at basic and upper secondary school levels as an optional subject. Although there is a syllabus of RE in the national curricula, the schools are not obliged to introduce this subject. Only exceptional basic schools have RE in their curriculum, although several upper secondary schools have it as one of many electives.
Non-confessional RE is based on the principles of freedom of religion and thought. It covers different religions and religious movements; teaches the students to understand how religion and worldview is expressed in culture, in the lives of individuals and in society; and discusses existential issues. There are three courses described for basic school and two courses for upper secondary level in the national curricula.
The goal is to prepare the students for life in a pluralistic society and in a world where they will encounter people of different religions and world views, to shape skills and attitudes that form the basis for mutual understanding, respect, openness and readiness for dialogue and cooperation.
The main objectives of RE in Estonia:
- to provide knowledge about different religions as a means towards religious literacy and understanding cultural heritage;
- to develop an open identity and readiness to dialogue across different religious and non-religious beliefs;
- to support students’ moral development;
- to support development of students’ worldview and critical thinking;
- to develop social awareness and responsibility.
Content distribution of RE at Basic school (look at the curriculum):
- 1st Stage of Study (age 7-10): “Customs, stories and values”
- 2nd Stage of Study (age 10-13): “Values and choices”
- 3rd Stage of Study (age 13-16): “One world, different religions”
Content distribution of RE at Upper secondary school (age 16-19, look at the curriculum: curriculum):
- “People and Religion”
- “The Religious Landscape of Estonia”
In addition, Olympiad of RE take place since spring 2009. It is a competition for gifted children from the upper secondary school or from the last year of basic school.
This report was written by Olga Schihalejev, 7.4.2022