What we did?
Context and Challenge
Astangu Vocational Rehabilitation Centre (Astangu) is a vocational school focused on students with special educational needs (hariduslik erivajadus – HEV).
In 2020, there were 1439 students out of 25 548 in vocational education who had special educational need. Special needs range from inadequate understanding of Estonian to emotional difficulties and physical disabilities.
The project’s goal was to design a process, based on Astangu, for use in regular vocational schools, to better help students with special needs through the entire school period to prevent dropouts.
We started our journey with Astangu process analyses, by developing a baseline of what inclusive and enabling vocational education should be like for HEV students. This was done both through a review of relevant documented processes as well as interviews with teachers, vocational experts, educational therapists, admissions staff followed by observations and interviews of students.
This was complimented with in-depth research and interviews of six vocational schools (Tartu Vocational College, Maarja Village study group of Räpina School of Horticulture, Tallinn School of Service, Tallinn Kopli Vocational School, Ida-Virumaa Vocational Education Center, Haapsalu Vocational Education and Training Centre) across Estonia as well as the Ministry of Education.
Our research also had to clarify what supporting services students received either from their school or third parties.
This was the first time that the situation of students with special needs was mapped in detail. There existed no unified information about the problems that students face, when and where problems surface and how the needs of students are addressed in vocational education, nor how that enables or prevents students from living up to their potential.
The hypothesis following the research, was that the vocational schools are both unmotivated as well as limited in understanding the special needs of students applying for admission. Their challenge is to understand who needs more help. Recognising the need for help and being able to offer it as soon as possible is the most important factor affecting students’ ability to participate and complete their studies.
Over several co-creation sessions with Astangu and other vocational school employees, we developed the vocational rehabilitation service journey. It focuses on improving the process of enrolment and early detection in order to prevent problems arising during the course of studies, as often the interruption of studies is related to undetected special educational needs. The process is based on the best practices used in Astangu Vocational Rehabilitation Center and vocational schools and is now being rolled out and adapted across vocational schools in Estonia.
The final reports can be read here (in Estonian):