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Innovations and developments - Estonia

There will be a new national curriculum in 2007. The main aim of the new curriculum is to decrease the amount of fact-based knowledge and to emphasise on the holistic development of a pupil. Until now the curricula have been worked out by university staff, which means the top scientists in a certain field. Therefore, curricula have been too extensive and theoretical. The new curriculum will be worked out by a team in the National Examination and Qualification Centre and university-based scientists will support the work with research results etc. The Centre has the best data on pupils needs and study results and therefore it is hoped that the new curriculum will be more connected to 'real-life needs'.

A new General Education Development Plan for years 2006-2009 is almost ready and a draft version has been sent to local educational authorities. The development plan states that in order to guarantee good education there should be a closer co-operation with the Ministry of Social Affairs and local authorities in order to plan and finance more support networks and counselling services for pupils with special needs.

In conclusion it can be said that the biggest and most rapid changes in assessment policies started shortly after Estonian re-independence. Re-independence also meant that Estonia had to establish its own legal system and legislation. New educational legislation followed democratic principles and the rule of law. Today, several amendments have been passed to the original acts. All these amendments have been the results of national or international developments in educational and social policy.

With regards to assessment of special needs, the latest changes and developments have been to withdraw from “medical approach” in special needs education. Until very recently a psychiatrist’s diagnosis was needed in order to offer a pupil some special educational assistance. Now, teachers are the specialists who make the decisions concerning assessment, supportive teaching, additional help etc.

Another major development can be seen in connection with assessment of study results. During the 1990´s, parents were able to put their children with special needs into regular classrooms only if a teacher did not have to do any extra work, adapt teaching or assessment. At the moment teachers feel responsible for every pupil in their class, teachers are more willing to do extra work and find alternative ways of assessment. This has happened also due to legislation that supports inclusive education (possibilities to study and be assessed according to individual education plan).

Looking ahead, the main question is always resources. It means both financial and also human resources. Changes in capitation money system could bring additional funding into these mainstream schools that teach pupils with special needs. It would be a major change in education, if funding would change so that “money follows the child”. In that case the extra resources that a school will receive with admission of a pupil with special needs could be used for alternative study materials, study forms and assessment.

It is our view that the main pressure so far and also in the future will come from parents of special needs children, teachers and organisations representing people with special needs.

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