Young teachers needed in Estonia

Teacher at Kostivere School 20km outside of Tallinn. Photo: Agatha Akhabue

TALLINN The number of young teachers under 3O in Estonia is falling rapidly.  The average age of teachers is 48. One in seven teachers in Estonia is male, a result of  low teacher’s salary.

By Agatha Akhabue 

 More and more of Estonia’s teachers are not fresh from college. Many have attained the type of experience that can only come with age.

In fact, “young people are not interested to become teachers,” says Einar Värä, chief expert at the ministry of education and research. “Our teachers are experienced and old.”

“A teaching job is kind of stereotype here. People see it as a women’s job because we have lot of women. It’s a problem,” Einar Värä admits.

Only one in seven teachers in Estonia are male. Six in every seven, a figure close to ninety percent is female.

Simply put, teaching is a female job. Taking to the classrooms these days just isn’t a good career choice for men.

“Young men want big salaries so they don’t want to be teachers. The question that our schools are too female is really serious and is a problem.  We need men teachers as a role model for our children at school. It’s a difficult problem. We have to understand that teaching job is not female. We must have men,” noted Einar Värä.

Early in March, for the first time in history, Estonian teachers went on strike to protest their low income. According to Estonian press, over 15,000 teachers across the country took to the streets in a three days strike. The strike that paralyzed the country´s school and transport operations came and went, but the teachers complaints remain to-date.

 “Salary should be on the same level that will show that the job is valued,” says Einar Värä.

But solving those differences doesn’t come easy because of the economic crisis.

Teachers’ salary in Estonia is one of the lowest in Europe.  Young teachers, (noorempedagoogil) earn 608,18 euros.  A regular teacher (Pedagoogil) earns slightly higher: 644,04 euros. The difference that should mark the wealth of experience in an old teacher doesn’t amount to much. By comparison, senior teachers (vanempedagoogil) earn 736,07 euros.

Teachers’ salary was kept artificially low in keeping with the level of economic growth Estonia has experienced in the recent past. The move contrasts sharply with the private sector, forcing a major wage imbalance in Estonia’s working population.

 Member of parliament Eiki Nestor admits low teachers’ salary is an issue.

“Teacher’s salary is a problem in Estonia. Because of the economic crises the government tries to keep the teachers salary on the same level. It was not so in other sectors”

”The main issues is how to make teaching job attractive so that young people will love the job,” says Einar Värä.

Catch Them Young

Beyond mere salary are deeper issues. Teachers are getting older and falling out of the system. There are no new teachers to fill in because young people are not interested to become teachers. The general perception of teachers in society is not valued.

Getting younger people into classroom jobs might take a more direct approach to the heart. The ministry of education is running a programme called Young People to School. Its aim is to get students in university, regardless of their educational background or experience in teaching, to teach and learn to be teachers.

The extent of success expected from the programme is being viewed with a touch of skepticism.

“Maybe it will give some results and young people will want to teach. But I am afraid it’s not easy to solve this problem in years to come,” says Einar Värä.

“At this moment we have some student teachers. Right now they are teaching but if they leave school and decide not to teach we will be back to the beginning again,” adds Einar Värä.

Annika Pan student teacher at Kostivere School. Photo: Agatha Akhabue

But it may work, even if it’s only one person at a time. Annika Pan, 24, is a student teacher at Kostivere School, 20km outside of Tallinn. She teaches nature science. She is also a student at the university.

What is unique is that she is one of several student teachers who want to remain a teacher, not despite the poor salary, but because of it.

“I did not like my teachers in my high school. If I want to change anything I have to be in the system to do that,” she says.

“I still want to be a teacher after my university is a passion for me everything is not all about money. It’s challenging and I like the challenge it’s like a mission for me.”


Click to watch a short Interview with  Einar Värä, Chief expert at the ministry of education and research. Estonia.

About Agatha Akhabue Fältström