State Audit Office: educational investments may go to waste

Toomas Mattson | 10/4/2004 | 12:00 AM

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TALLINN, 4 October 2004 - The State Audit Office (SAO) warns that tens of millions of kroons appropriated for investment in schools may go to waste, because the Ministry of Education and Research has not established criteria for determining the viability of schools.

Such indetermination creates a risk that investments are channelled to schools which terminate their educational activity in a few years time, because there are not enough children or teachers for the school to remain viable.

The SAO finds that the solution to the problem necessitates the planning of the development of the schools network and establishment of viability criteria. “The Government has to determine the minimum size of a school so that quality of education is maintained, as well as define the future network of schools”, said Kristjan Paas, SAO Audit Manager.

In the vision of the SAO, quality is a key factor for sustainability. “Small country schools, too, have every right to exist, if they are able to provide quality education to pupils. Rational reasoning tells that schools which are unable to cope with that task need to be reorganised. No concession should be made at the cost of children’s education”, stated Audit Manager Kristjan Paas.

Paas emphasized that prior to taking decisions on the future of schools one should proceed from objective reality and seek to ensure that the would-be solution is balanced on economic arguments and social factors. “Should an all-inclusive analysis reveal that a school is to be closed, this will be done”, asserted the SAO Audit Manager.

According to the SAO, the planning of the network of schools is inescapable in the context of the new investment funding scheme that the Government wishes to apply. Linking of funds earmarked for investment to student capitation fees would be a more transparent solution than the currently effective funding scheme.

However, the SAO finds that including investments in capitation fees does not result in automatic self-regulation of the schools network. Attention must be paid to the fact that by pooling investments and the payroll the new system enables marginal schools to languish for years (marginal in the meaning of viability and the number of students). The base amount system in line with the capitation system may even prolong the agony of some schools. The Minister, in collaboration with the Parliament, should establish parameters for the quality of education, taking into account also the quantitative dimension (e.g., the number of students of a school).

The SAO regrets that the Minister of Education and Research was left aside from the allocation of around 80 million kroons from the 2004 budget via the project “The School of the 21st Century” and the decisions were taken by the Parliament as a result of mutual arrangements between politicians in the coalition. These monies were divided between 10 schools according to solely political criteria.

Today there are 609 general education schools in Estonia. Since the number of students is falling from year to year, the number of schools to service them is also declining. Since the second half of the 1990s some schools have been closed down every year. In the period from 1991 to 2003, over 150 general education schools have been closed or reorganised. Almost 40 % of the new schools founded in the period from the restoration of Estonia’s independence to the year 2003 have been closed to date.

The Ministry of Education and Research forecasts a decline in the number of schools given the ongoing fall in the number of pupils: by 2006/2007 the number of schools will drop to the 1980 level – 544 schools.

Toomas Mattson
Communication Manager of National Audit Office
Telephone: 6400 777
Mob: 51 34900
E-mail: [email protected]

  • Posted: 10/4/2004 12:00 AM
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