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President of the Republic at the ESHA Biennial Conference in Tallinn

Welcome to Estonia! I am very proud that this conference is taking place here in Tallinn this year. It’s interesting that while preparing for this presentation today I was asked to tell you why Estonia is so highly ranked in PISA. Of course, nobody ultimately knows, but I think we need to delve into the history of Estonian education to answer that question.

In the decades following the end to serfdom, Estonians began fundraising for a school for Estonian children that would take them beyond primary education to secondary level. Imagine! These people had spent centuries in serfdom.

They gained their freedom; they became owners of their land. Yet they were not satisfied simply with the fact that they now could take care of their land and their farms and have their children working for their own families. They realised that they wanted to give their children something more – a better education.

It is very important to note that girls also attended these Estonian schools. This in itself is quite remarkable because at that time we were taught by German pastors and people who were not even Estonians, and not even in Estonian language.

However, this was not questioned in our country. Everybody realised that, first and foremost, we needed educated people.

Second, we also needed to educate our girls because a smart nation is built by smart mothers. For some reason, Estonia has always known that. Of course, there was much discussion about how high should girls aspire.

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