Describing and developing VET qualifications using learning outcomes

All VET qualifications are described using learning outcomes and the Estonian Qualifications Framework (EstQF)[1] is referenced to the European Qualifications Framework for Lifelong Learning (EQF)[2]. VET qualifications use a credit point system which conforms to ECVET, and they can be achieved through the validation of non-formal and informal learning. The referencing of VET qualifications in the EstQF and the recognition of non-formal and informal learning are defined in legislation.

 The EstQF is based on a set the Standards for VET (SVET) which require:

  • the curriculum to include the objectives and functions of vocational, professional and occupational training;
  • the learning outcomes which should be achieved;
  • the requirements for starting and completing studies;
  • the curriculum modules, their size (volume of learning), their learning outcomes and assessment criteria;
  • the opportunities and conditions for choosing modules and the opportunities for specialisation;
  • on the basis of professional standards, the curricula should set out any partial qualifications which can be acquired during the training programme.

The SVET also describe the level of competence (expressed as learning outcomes) that has to be achieved in the following areas:

  • specific knowledge for the occupation;
  • specific skills, autonomy and responsibility for the occupation;
  • learning competence;
  • communication competence;
  • self-awareness competence;
  • operational competence;
  • IT competence;
  • entrepreneurial competence.

Developing the curriculum

The national curriculum for initial and continuing VET is developed through cooperation with social partners; and is based on the SVET and relevant occupational qualification standards (OQS). These:

  • are based on a job or functional analysis;
  • describe expected competences which need to be observable and assessable
  • define the method(s) for assessing of persons’ competence;
  • define the level of the respective occupational qualification in the EstQF.

In order to develop or update one of the OQS, there has to be a proposal from the sector skills council (SSC). A proposal to develop one of the OQS is consider by the Chairs of all the Sector Skills Councils[3]. If they agree, the OQS is prepared by a working group which is established by the SSC. The working group includes specialists from employers and trainers and is guided by the Estonian Qualifications Authority[4] which is responsible for:

  • developing and implementing the professional qualifications system;
  • organising and coordinating the activities of professional councils and their cooperation;
  • organising the activities of the coordination committee;
  • forming expert committees and organising their activities;
  • developing and approving document and examples relating to the professional qualifications system;
  • organising the administrative supervision of the activities of bodies that award professional qualifications;
  • developing and approving the procedures for archiving documents held by the awarding bodies for different professions;
  • maintaining, upon request of the chief processor, the register of professions;
  • organising consultation and training related to the professional qualifications system;
  • introducing the Estonian professional qualifications system at the national and international level by creating conditions for the mutual comparison of professions;
  • organising the development and updating of professional standards on the basis of decisions made by professional councils;
  • developing and approving the common methodology for preparing professional standards;
  • developing annexes to professional certificates;
  • organising the technical aspect of issuing professional certificates;
  • organising the work of Europass Centre;
  • performing other functions in line with the legislation Act.

The development of the OQS (and the system which uses them) is based on:

  • involving stakeholders from the labour market in all parts of the occupational qualifications system. The stakeholders include employers, employees, the state, trainers and agreements, and decision are based on co-operation;
  • an integrated qualifications system;
  • the main basis for occupational qualifications is competence;
  • the occupational qualifications system is developed and operationalised as a quality system.

Once the OQSs have been developed, these can be used to create the curriculum. The development of the national VET curriculum (and individual school curricula) is supported by Foundation Innove[5] which:

  • brings together all the different interest groups;
  • establishes and guides working groups to identify and renew the national curricula;
  • supports and guides curricula development in schools;
  • produces instructions and guidelines;
  • gains agreement between interest groups on the curriculum in every curricula area;
  • supports sectoral networks in order that they can share information and good practice;
  • organises regular network meetings to provide methodological support and mutual learning, and to gather feedback;
  • provides curricula related guidance and consultancy for VET institutions, the Ministry of Education and Research, the Estonian Qualifications Authority, the Estonian Quality Agency for Higher and Vocational Education (EKKA), employers, unions and other social partners.

In order to develop the curriculum, there has to be an agreement on how to definite and write the learning outcomes. This is completed by working groups with specialists from employers and training organisations. Foundation Innove published a handbook for compiling and developing the school curricula based on learning outcomes which:

  • are based on occupational activities/tasks;
  • describe exactly what skills, knowledge, and attitudes a learner is expected to acquire to be successful at work in a particular occupation;
  • are measurable and assessable;
  • are realistic and meet the objectives set;
  • can be acquired and performed within the specified period;
  • are mapped against each professional area and/or qualifications; and they are based on the International classification of the ‘International Standard Classification of Occupations, 2008 (ISCO-08)’;
  • define part of the work or the work processes for one specific professional qualification (mandatory competences);
  • describe indicators of successful work performance, skills, knowledge and attitudes;
  • be defined by the EstQF’s level of professional qualifications.

Using the national curriculum, each school produces a curriculum for the programmes they offer. If the school’s curriculum offers learners the possibility of acquire several qualifications or partial qualifications, the school identifies which modules and learning outcomes are connected to each qualification. Once a school curriculum is developed it is loaded into the Estonian Education Database. However there are checks to ensure the curriculum is appropriate. Before 1/1/2017 each school curriculum had to pass a detailed pre-assessment. This process has been reviewed and it is no longer a mandatory requirement to pass the pre-assessment. However the Ministry of Education and Research can send a draft curriculum to be pre-assessed. The new approach is based on the provider’s self-assessment and the independent external evaluation. This change emphasises the quality assurance systems used by the VET school.

[1] Estonian Qualifications Framework

[2] Referencing the Estonian Qualifications Framework (EstQF) to the European Qualifications (amended 2015)

[3] The main responsibility for developing and updating occupational standards lies with the Sector Skills Councils.


[5] Foundation Innove promotes general and vocational education, provides career and education counselling services through the nationwide lifelong guidance network, and mediates the European Union assistance. Innove is governed by the Estonian Ministry of Education and Research.

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