EDUCATION IN TRANSITION – THE IMPACT OF NEOLIBERAL EDUCATIONAL REFORMS ON TEACHER PROFESSIONALISM IN ESTONIA
This study focuses on the effects of changes in teacher professionalism in Post-Soviet countries using Estonia as an example. During the late 1980s and early 1990s the Estonian education system experienced a change of ideology and the introduction of decentralization and pluralisation that was, essentially, initiated from the grass roots by teachers themselves. It has, however, been observed that the result is a feeling of teacher dissatisfaction and a decline in professionalism rather than the increase in job-satisfaction that was anticipated from professional autonomy and independent decision-making. This contradiction calls for a critique of education policy during the years of transition and an explanation for this situation.
The teaching profession has always been affected by the actions of the state. The impact of governmental changes is a topical issue both in Europe and further afield. In the late 1980s globalized, neoliberal educational reform changed the education systems of the Post-Soviet countries. Significant changes were introduced in structure and organization, assessment and evaluation, standardization, curriculum reform, instructional strategy and community involvement. The majority of teachers (many of whom are still active and influential) had started work in a different social system: the aim of the study is to explore events and initiatives during the transition from totalitarian to democratic society that influenced developments in professionalism. Our study attempts to deconstruct and to reconsider political changes in Estonian education during 1986-1996.
We focus both on bottom-up and top-down actions in order to determine influences on outcomes and describe how social change effects teachers’ professionalism. We conducted documentary analysis of educational policy documents and articles in professional periodicals. Eliot Freidson´ s model of professionalism was used as a frame for data analysis and we explored 1) autonomy, 2) body of specialized knowledge and skill and 3) transcendent values.
External, international change triggered in-house developments and initiatives in professionalism in Estonia but, after the restoration of independence in 1991, the state, in order to stabilise the situation, took the lead. An improvement in the quality of teacher professionalism was expected as a result of neoliberal educational reform but this has not been the case. Freidsons` three indicators of professionalism were found to have been followed at an institutional level but our study demonstrates how a decentralised educational policy with a national curriculum can have the same adverse effect on teachers’ input and output and professional autonomy as a system totally controlled from the centre resulting in deprofessionalization. Our study examines the impact of historical change and the consequences - intentional or unintentional- of the introduction of neoliberal educational reforms. Estonia’s learning curve could prove to be a base for learning for societies about to experience the same neoliberal reforms.