PISA 2018: Estonia ranks first in Europe

Ministry of Education and Research of Estonia

Press Release

PISA 2018: Estonia ranks first in Europe 3. December 2019 – 11:24


The skills of Estonian students rank 1st in Europe according to the OECD’s international survey PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment). Estonian students rank first in all three domains of assessment. The share of top performers has increased while the share of students performing below the baseline level has decreased. The results indicate that the level of education provided by basic school is not dependent on the socio-economic background of a student.

Estonia’s 15-year-olds rank 1st in reading, science and mathematics in Europe while in the world, Estonia’s students rank 5th in reading, 8th in mathematics and 4th in sciences. Estonia belongs to one of five countries globally where students have demonstrated improved results in two domains. The PISA results suggest that Estonia’s education system is effective and ensures equity – compared to other countries, there is a large number of students who despite socio-economic disadvantage attain a high level of academic proficiency.

“We must first of all thank our students, parents and teachers for these results. Their dedication and hard work each day gives us reason to take pride in our education,” said Mailis Reps, the Minister of Education and Research of Estonia. “Our consistently excellent PISA results show that we have made right choices in our education policy in this fast-changing world. I am glad that Estonia is increasingly known and recognised as an education nation.”

PISA 2018 focused on reading literacy. The Estonian results demonstrate a steady growth in performance, increasing by 22 points compared to 2009 when reading literacy was last assessed. The difference between the performance of boys and girls has declined significantly. Estonian students are very good in searching for information and data. The number of top performers has increased compared to the last PISA assessment in 2015. 13.9% of students are able to solve complicated and very complicated tasks compared to OECD’s average of 8.5%.

Estonian students have one of the highest levels of knowledge in natural sciences (biology, physics and chemistry): 1st in Europe and OECD member states, and 4th in the world. The share of top performers in sciences is double the OECD average (12.2% compared to 6.8%). Estonia also has the lowest number (8.8%) of low performing students among European and OECD member states (the OECD average is 22%).

In mathematics, Estonian students rank 1st in Europe and 8th in the world. 15.5% of students are top performers compared to OECD average of 5%. Boys rank slightly higher than girls in mathematics.

PISA assesses skills necessary for future

The domains PISA assesses play fundamental role in students’ future studies and performance, said Gunda Tire, the PISA Coordinator in Estonia and expert at the Foundation Innove. “PISA provides countries with feedback on their education system. The results are helpful for understanding which aspects of the education system require more attention,” said Tire. “In addition to skills and knowledge, PISA also looks as students’ well-being.”

The majority (77%) of Estonian students exhibit growth mindset – they  believe that they are capable of improving their intelligence and are willing to put effort into their own development in order to secure a better future. This is the highest among OECD countries. 70% of students plan to attain higher education; the most popular professions are ICT specialist, doctor, CEO, architect and psychologist.

On average, 70% of Estonian students are satisfied with their life, which is above OECD’s average. For the first time, PISA 2018 studied how students feel in their lives. Results demonstrate that 89% of students feel always or most of the time happy and cheerful while 53% are worried and 51% sad.

Estonia’s challenges

While the differences in results between boys and girls in reading literacy has decreased and both genders have improved significantly, the share of low-performing boys is larger than we would like. A student-oriented approach and a greater attention to different approaches are something that help to decrease the number of low performers.

Similarly to previous results, a performance gap between schools with different languages of instruction persists. The consistent gap shows that more attention must be paid to training teachers and headmasters. It must be highlighted that students at schools with Russian as the language of instruction perform above the OECD average.

Estonia’s education know-how in the world

Thanks to the excellent results in PISA, Estonia has become an education expert in the world, said minister Mailis Reps. “I am glad that we have proven ourselves to the world in three of the most important domains. By learning from other countries, we have been able to shape our unique path that has made us a top performer. We have become from students to teachers. Now it is our turn to share our expertise and know-how,” said Reps.

“There is great interest in our success story. We have a story to share with the world. We have established an international brand and concept to introduce Estonia’s education,” Reps added.

The brand is called “Education Nation – for the smartEST people in the world”. Working together gives an opportunity to go further, increase the attractiveness of Estonia and provide better support to Estonian education technology companies, said Reps. The brand helps to share Estonia’s know-how, competences, experiences, trainings, smart solutions or products better and it will assemble a number of initiatives and undertakings that showcase Estonia’s education.


  • 79 countries and economies and 600 000 students aged 15 participated in PISA 2018 testing. 5371 students from Estonia participated in the test (4000 in Estonian language and 1371 in Russian language).
  • PISA focuses on the 15-year-olds because at this age, students in many OECD countries graduate compulsory education and decide their next steps.
  • PISA is a triennial international survey with a goal to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students in mathematics, reading and sciences. Each PISA cycle explores one of the subjects in more detail. PISA 2018 focused on reading literacy. The financial literacy was also studies and the results will be published in 2020.

Press conference materials

Summary of results (In English)
Press conference slides (In Estonian)
PISA 2018 OECD raport
Education Nation one pager