Why Estonia is reforming its physical education

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The physical education (PE) reform in Estonia puts the focus on quality, so that the subject can better support the development of a healthy and active lifestyle.


PE has been a compulsory subject in the Estonian national curricula since the second half of the 19th century. For several decades, the PE curriculum had strong influences from the Soviet era, and prioritised learning the techniques of certain government-prescribed sports. From the beginning of the nineties, the idea of quality and health-related PE started to gain traction.

Why was it important to start the PE reform in 2016?

  • The PE curriculum was still sports-centred and achievement-oriented.
  • Studies showed that only 20% to 28% of young people got the recommended amount of physical activity.
  • A well-being survey among pupils indicated that as many as 60% of them didn’t feel that PE motivated them to be more active in their free time.

What is the current situation?

The new skills-, motivation- and outcome-based PE curriculum was composed and presented to the Ministry of Education and Research in 2018. The content of the curriculum brings out five areas for developing lifelong physical activity: 1) fundamental movement skills, 2) health and fitness, 3) physical activity, 4) movement and culture, 5) body and mind.

New PE workshops and methodological materials have been arranged as part of the project “Increasing the physical activity of schoolchildren” – funded by European Economic Area grants and co-financed by the Ministry of Social Affairs and the University of Tartu – and the project School in Motion. Different Erasmus+ projects are closely related to the new curricula: JoyMVPA develops skills-based, joyful games, and Fitback health-related fitness monitoring in PE.

Maret Pihu is Lecturer in Didactics of Physical Education at the University of Tartu, Institute of Sport Sciences and Physiotherapy.