It can be said that when establishing the new school, EBS adhered to an old saying: lend a hand if you see something amiss. One of the biggest mistakes that Madis Habakuk saw in the state education system was the weak representation or complete absence of subjects containing economics, entrepreneurship and the handling of money in school schedules.
Madis Habakuk noted that schools in Estonia teach students how to be poor and the attitude of teachers (as well as society in general) towards the rich, richness and money is negative. This way of thinking had to be changed!
In an interview given to Äripäev in June 1997, Madis Habakuk noted that regardless of the name – Business Upper Secondary School – he would not place a great emphasise on the word “business”. “It’s not a vocational educational institution, and therefore we don’t teach any specific business vocations there. The graduate must be able to continue his or her studies in any institution of higher learning”.
Tuition at the Business Upper Secondary School was EEK 7500 per semester. This meant that a parent earing the average wage had to put aside nearly two months’ salary to pay the semester tuition – the average monthly salary was just under EEK 4000 in 1997.
Despite the steep tuition, there were plenty of interested people.
During the first academic year, the Business Upper Secondary School opened three classrooms with 75 students in the space it shared with the vocational educational institution on Juhkentali Street – two 10th grade classes and one 11th grade class. Young people came from across Estonia, with nearly half coming from outside of Tallinn. During the 1998/1999 academic year the number of classes grew to five.
In January 1999 the name of the school was changed to EBS Upper Secondary School, allowing it to fit in better with EBS. In 2011, the school moved from its rooms in the Juhkentali Street commercial school to be under one roof with the other EBSters at Lauteri Street. Not everyone liked this. In the December issue of the student paper, columnist Mihkel Mikrofon expressed his dissatisfaction with the fact that having the upper secondary school located in the same building as EBS, the institution of higher education, neutralises the academic atmosphere.
In 2003 the number of students had more than doubled to 155 in comparison with the first year. During the same year an English language class was also opened, in which all instruction took place in English. Three class types developed, between which the basic school graduate can decide on continuing their education: The European class, in which 25% of classes are in English, the international class, where the majority of instruction is in English; and the business class, in which all instruction takes place in Estonian.
During the 2017/2018 academic year there were a total of 108 students studying in the school and the tuition ranged between EUR 2180-3200, depending on the type of class. EBS Upper Secondary School is the only school with a state approved English language curricula in Estonia. Here, the upper secondary school student is provided with the best preparation to continue learning anywhere in the world.
“Three of us started up the school: Gerty Baumann as the Dean, myself as Director, and Mihkel Rebane as project manager on the EBS side. In the beginning there was no division of work – everybody did everything, from concluding contracts to hauling out furniture.
Soon we were joined by the first teachers. We concluded contract of employment No. 1 with math teacher Villu Raja. Sometimes I am amazed that the parents of children and our first students trusted our school – none of us had any prior experience in creating a private school, the rooms were shared with a vocational educational institution and therefore our instruction took place in the afternoon during the first year, with classes starting at 12-13 and ending in the evening at 19-20.
But we believed in the righteousness and goodness of our undertaking so genuinely and strongly that our enthusiasm also infected others!”
Source: EBS Upper Secondary School Year Book 2001/2002
Students are accepted today in the same way that they were 20 years ago, mainly based on the candidate’s personality. This means that the hope of gaining admission was primarily with those who were good communicators and organisers. Madis Habakuk justified this with a simple truth: in business, it is the people that are able to act through others who are successful.
Adds Kersti Uudla, who has been the Director of the Upper Secondary School since 2014: “We don’t accept students with A’s and B’s exclusively. We accept those that would like to learn about economics, to engage in business and have an enterprising personality. Despite the fact that we don’t accept only straight A students, we are highly ranked in the list of schools. This is the result of good teaching by our teachers, that they are able to turn C grade students into B grade students and B grade students into A grade students,” emphasises Kersti Uudla.
Indeed, based on state exams in 2017, EBS Upper Secondary School was 12th in the ranking of Estonian language schools prepared by the Postimees newspaper. The good position in the ranking is probably not why the secondary students exert themselves. They might instead be motivated by the fact that the best EBS Upper Secondary School students receive something in addition to the basics – which is an excellent education! –, a bonus that can be measured in cash: the opportunity to continue studying at EBS under more favourable conditions.
For years, the EBS Upper Secondary School has held a mental calculation competition, in which 50 tasks are to be solved in 15 minutes. Time to begin mental calculation! How many problems are competitors required to solve in a minute?
Held in December, the mental calculation competition is very popular and teachers also want to take part alongside the students. True, they can also compete for prize-winning places without pretending.
The EBS Upper Secondary School curricula has followed the national curriculum from the start. The emphasis in optional and elective subjects is on economics, entrepreneurship, informatics, debate and the art of speaking, organisational psychology, and the teaching of other subjects. Specialised learning of English and mathematics.
Occupying their own place are visits to businesses and meetings with entrepreneurs. The form of study used is period based instruction, in which one subject is focused on over a longer period of time. Classes are small, usually 15-20 students.
“We don’t study flower and butterflies. We engage in deep teaching of economic subjects, with instructors from EBS university visiting us,” says Kersti Uudla, emphasising that EBS is set apart from other upper secondary schools by the fact that lessons are taught by practitioners – for example, finance is taught by someone whose everyday job is in a bank, the maths teacher owns his own diving school and is also a diving instructor. The conclusion is simple: if the teachers are literally involved in operating a business, then this makes instruction more real for students and leads to quite a few of them starting their own business.
By the way, at first glance it may seem strange, but starting a business is helped by the national curriculum – in 11th grade all basic education school students must engage in research, but at EBS there are alternatives to preparing a research project. One possibility is to create a student company with others, or a student wishing to work individually can come up with their own business idea, prepare a business plan and defend it.
From the above it is clear that many EBS upper secondary school students don’t wait for school to be over in order to start a business. “Sometimes I see a student in the hallway talking on their phone between classes. When I ask whether they should be in class, they reply in a whisper: ssh, I am talking to a client right now,” explains Kersti Uudla, so it is that many students are able to simultaneously engage in their studies as well as starting up and running a business.
Uudla adds that the EBS upper secondary school’s values are freedom and responsibility, creativity and entrepreneurship and caring. “We give our students greater freedom than many other schools, but we demand greater responsibility,” says Kersti Uudla.
In 2000, I made an informed choice in favour of EBS Upper Secondary School. At that time EBS’s innovative programme and new approach to learning was offering opportunities in the upper secondary school level to develop oneself and obtain knowledge in fields that are typically only taught in university. I couldn’t wait until I reached university so that I would be able to begin studying real things.
Looking back, it was the right decision. Personal approaches and smart direction by the school family provided an excellent springboard to the future. Small classes and exciting subjects made me enthusiastic to learn. It was popular to be a good and active student.
You can’t buy knowledge with money, but EBS Upper Secondary School does create excellent opportunities for personal development and acquiring knowledge.
Daily schoolwork takes time and typically only the best and most energetic have time to deal with entrepreneurship alongside their studies. Not everyone is like that. Which means that an effort has to be made to motivate students to learn and to help those that have fallen behind.
Providing help to those that have fallen behind is typically personal, but in 2005 help had to be organised in groups. At that time 24 students, or roughly 15% of the total number of students at the time, dropped out of EBS Upper Secondary School. Since the number was rather high, the school began offering fee-based academic support, to reduce the number of dropouts.
In an article published in Eesti Päevaleht, Ave Paat, who had assumed the position of Director at the school in August 2005, described how students were directed to voluntary academic support if they did not improve their “failure” within a period of two weeks after their scores were posted. In January 2006, out of the schools 51 tenth graders, the parents of 30 received a notice that their child was being directed to academic support along with the cost for the additional work. The cost of one test or additional hour was EEK 300 and for some students the number of “failed” tests reached 18, i.e. EEK 5400.
The parents of upper secondary school students had questions regarding the academic support. A parent of a student who spoke with Päevaleht considered it strange that the problem involved so many children, and suspected that the school’s teachers are too strict when it came to grading, since they are able to earn additional money by sending students to academic support. But according to one young man who was studying in the 10th grade, a number of the students directed to academic support had themselves neglected their studies.
“Several of them are absent a lot, thinking that they should make it through school because they are paying,” he told Eesti Päevaleht. Young people who are in trouble with their studies can ask for help from the teacher of their subject – there is one free consultation per week for each subject. If this should not be sufficient to catch up with the class, then participation in the fee based academic support organised by the school will help.
Entering EBS Upper Secondary School was the first big independent decision of my life, it changed the way I thought and had a positive impact on my plans for life. In basic school I studied at the Tallinn Reaalkool (Tallinn Secondary School of Science), where I sat next to the daughter of Tõnu Küttmaa, who was Head of Finance at EBS. It was through her that I heard about EBS.
When we were living in Viljandi, my father had learned about EBS through one of his co-workers, Ivo Niglas, who had participated in the 1991 course and later also shared his knowledge at work. When I told my father that I wanted to attend EBS Upper Secondary School, he said: “yes, that is Habakuk’s school, you can go there”.
My science teachers at EBS Upper Secondary School were the same as during my time at the Tallinn Secondary School of Science (several teachers from the Tallinn Secondary School of Science taught at EBS Upper Secondary School during its first few years – editor). While my grades in chemistry and physics had been twos or threes at the Tallinn Secondary School of Science, at EBS I earned fives. Even the teachers were surprised at what had happened to me.
I believe that it was because EBS had small classes and the teachers were able to engage each of the students. Period studies were also efficient, during which we focused on one subject for a period of two or three months. It was popular in our class to be a student who earned fours or fives.
I remember one incident, which confirms that sometimes one can be lucky in business. Four other students and I put together the Upper Secondary School’s yearbook. However, an accident occurred during printing, which resulted in the completion date for the book being pushed back considerably.
The print shop was forced to give us the entire print-run for free, which meant that all of the money that we had collected from sponsorship and for advertising in the book was now pure profit. The five of us went off to meet the summer in a very happy state of mind.