Development perspectives of social pedagogy
As a result of its rapid development during the last decade, Estonia
has increasingly adopted features characteristic to a post-modern
society, which makes higher demands on its citizens than all other
previous societies. Since the number of choices is immeasurably
greater, making the right decision is much more difficult.
It is hardly surprising that the number of people who do not
meet the requirements of the society has risen, and those who
cannot keep up with these requirements are excluded or give up
This may happen at different ages, but from the standpoint of
human development, the results are most disastrous when exclu-
sion is faced by those whose personalities are not yet developed.
Giving up the fight and drifting with the current may embitter an
individual, and he or she may turn to self-destruction or antisocial
behaviour to find relief. Young people, having been displaced from
the main road of life, are defenceless due to the absence of human
security and thus have difficulty integrating into society. They are
beginning to be called the socially excluded. Social exclusion is
interpreted as a state of an individual, which occurs if his or her
primary or basic needs have not been met. Different sciences are
tackling the problems of prevention, and decreasing social exclu-
sion is being dealt with both at the theoretical level by different
sciences, and at the practical level by certain institutions (Duffy
1995; Halleröd 1996).
Social pedagogy, as a science and a sphere of action, has devel-
oped significantly in several countries over the past hundred years.
As the objective of social pedagogy is to lessen social exclusion,
minimise and solve social problems by means of educational tools,
the development of social pedagogy can be regarded as performing
As the phenomena is relatively new in our society (although the
roots of social pedagogy can be traced back some centuries), the
nature, target and spheres of action of social pedagogy are compre-
hended very differently. There are common features of development
between countries, just as there are different schools within one
This paper deals with the necessity of social pedagogy, the current
situation and potential patterns of its development in Estonia.
The Western conception of social sciences was considered unnec-
essary in the Soviet Union and consequently also in Estonia.
According to the constitution of the Soviet Union, which relied
on Marx’s philosophy and communist ideology, all people were
guaranteed equal rights and opportunities to medical aid, edu-
cation, work, and dwelling, and those rights were supposed to
enable all people to integrate into the society. Social exclusion, as a
phenomenon, was considered entirely impossible in a state where
communism was building up.
The problem of differences between the communist and capital-
ist systems in meeting the basic needs of their citizens is very com-
plicated, therefore it is difficult to say which rights were applied in
real life, and which existed only on paper.
In any case, social work and social pedagogy in the present sense
were not considered necessary, and concepts such as safety and
social exclusion were not even in use.
In the earlier context ‘exclusion’ was mostly used with reference
to interpersonal relationships. It concerned only dissatisfaction with
communication, and exclusion from a certain group. Even though
these both belong to the concept of exclusion, the concept itself
as a whole is much wider and includes many different dissatisfied
needs. ‘Exclusion’ can be treated as the absence of welfare (Lau-
rinkari 1997, 19 – 20), which makes an individual feel vulnerable.
Welfare can be interpreted as a situation in which an individual is
enabled to satisfy his basic needs. The absence of resources needed
for welfare decreases the possibility of being actively engaged in the
economical, social, political and cultural life of the society, and leads
to social exclusion (Allardt 1976, 21–28).
In the case of exclusion, relations between an individual and the
society become distant. This is a situation, in which people from
socially and culturally appreciated positions find themselves in
An excluded person, feeling that his basic needs have not been
satisfied, cannot lead his life according to his own needs and wants.
The main problem is the absence of opportunities in making deci-
sions and choices.
The individual feels trapped, and suffers from the absence of
choices. In order to feel autonomy, one should be conscious of the
optional character of one’s activities, and the responsibility this
entails, although it is also accompanied by a feeling of vulnerability.
It might be difficult to foresee the results of alternatives but we still
have to make choices. Making decisions and choices is a part of the
coping process in our life, and the absence of opportunity to make
them leads to social exclusion.
It is characteristic of the modern world that a child is treated as
a fully-valued individual whose rights and needs are accepted and
protected by adults. The rights of children are now more empha-
sised in the legislation of different countries; a child is treated as a
subject who has his own rights, and who needs special protection.
These changes in legislation imply a humanisation of childhood
(Lahikainen 1998). If in the past it was the parents’ right and duty
to take care of their children, and even make decisions for them,
then it is the duty of modern legislation to insist on considering the
child’s needs as well. Special emphasis is laid on a child’s right to
express his opinion in all matters concerning him, and parents are
obliged to take his ideas into consideration (Lahikainen 1998).
The process during the past century is characterised by events
such as the issuing of the Geneva Declaration in 1924 by the League
of Nations, and the acceptance of “The Convention of Child’s
Rights” in the Chief Assembly of the United Nations on the 20th
of November, 1989 (Hallimäe & Ritso 1999).
Already in 1991, Estonia signed the declaration of the United
Nation’s Convention on the rights of the child by the decision of
the Parliament, whereas the entire document of the convention was
issued only in 1996. This fact has aroused suspicion as to whether
this superior document has been sufficiently considered by lawmak-
ers (Alajõe 1997).
Interest in the protection of the child’s rights in European
countries has been proved by the fast accession to “The European
Convention of Child’s Rights”, issued on the 25th of January, 1996
In order to guarantee the three main rights of a child (provision,
protection, participation), the convention emphasises the duties of
both parties in the environment in which the child grows up (grow-
ing environment) – on the one hand home and family, and on the
other hand, the duties of the professionals dealing with the child.
According to the convention “... a child needs special protection
and care due to his physical and mental immaturity, accompanied
by juridical protection before and after birth.” According to the
convention, family is the most important part of the environment
in the child’s growing up process: “... in order to guarantee the
harmonic and normal development of personality, a child must be
raised in a family surrounded by love, happiness and understanding,
carefully preparing him/her for individual life in the society ...,” but
outside the family atmosphere, without a family “... a child has got
the right to special protection and aid from the state.”
Since Estonia has joined the UNO’s “Convention of Child’s
Rights”, the preconditions for creating a safe growing environment
for children have been established. If we observe the requirements
of the convention, then meeting the basic needs of a child should
be guaranteed and thus social exclusion avoided.
In addition to the convention, a child’s rights in Estonia are
treated in the Child’s Protection Act (accepted in 1992), The Family
Law Act (1994), The Social Welfare Act (1995) and The State Family
Benefits Act (1997) (Tiko 2000). The safety of children depends on
some other juridical acts, such as laws regulating education, medical
aid, medical insurance and advertising.
The practical implementation of a child’s rights must be ensured
by local authorities with the assistance of the so-called third sector:
supportive and counselling centres for children and their parents,
non-profit institutions, foundations, projects, etc.
Despite the convention and acts dealing with a child’s rights,
many studies and statistics reveal that we have not succeeded in
avoiding the social exclusion of children in Estonia, nor in other
countries either. The role of institutions established to implement
the above-mentioned acts is reactive not active: they try to find
means and resources to help the child whose growing environment
is evidently inadequate. Unfortunately these children are difficult
to find, and help or assistance arrives a little too late.
The delay with institutional assistance is inevitable because social
workers and officials cannot interfere in family life until it is clear
that the family is not functioning and is not capable of meeting the
child’s various needs.
Only when the family’s inability to raise the child is indisput-
able is it possible to act. Unfortunately by that time, the number
of mistakes made during the period of a child’s rapid development
is so great that irreparable damage may have been done to his per-
It is difficult to do the prevention work which is emphasised in
the convention — to guarantee the atmosphere of love, happiness
and understanding—and even more difficult to destroy the circle
of deprivation than to react to an unfavourable growing environ-
On the bases of previous studies, it can be said that the process
of social exclusion begins in early childhood, and depends on the
degree of nurture and material welfare. The risk of social exclusion
is greater if the child suffers from a lack of both love and economic
welfare, and less if one of these factors works (caring/love or eco-
nomic welfare). The risk of social exclusion is least when the child’s
economic conditions and attention he gets are sufficient (Järventie
Social exclusion threatens, above all, those children who are
without parents or short of parents’ attention, those who have no
home or whose biological parents are not capable of raising them.
Children raised in a family are threatened by social exclusion if their
home is not capable of meeting their economic and social needs
(Kutsar 1995; Narusk 1995). More than a quarter of the Estonian
children live below the poverty line, and the risk of poverty threat-
ens more than half of the children (Tiit 2000, 31–33). A little less
than three quarters of children have normal external living condi-
tions, most of them live in families where there is more than one
working adult and the number of children is 1–2. However, families
with more children, and families where one or even both parents
are unemployed, usually live below the poverty line (Tiit 2000, 33).
In the case of the single parent, there is the risk that in trying to
meet the material needs of the child, no time and energy are left to
satisfy his social needs – and vice versa. As a result of the urbanisa-
tion, industrialisation and modernisation of lifestyles, traditional
social structures have been destroyed, and the educating potential
of families (homes) has weakened, thus the rise of social immaturity
and disassociation and non-integration are global problems.
Although providing children with the knowledge and skills
necessary in the process of development is considered as the main
task of the school, we cannot underestimate its role in integrating
children into the society. Human relations, experience of failure
and success, feeling of full-value life and worthlessness are formed
It is in the school’s power to compensate for at least some defi-
ciencies or mistakes made at home, but on the other hand, a bad
experience at school may deepen the problem and worsen the whole
situation. The welfare of a student depends, to a great extent, on
his or her position among peers. Not all children succeed in adapt-
ing to the school environment, even kindergarten children have to
fight for their status in the group. Those who have been excluded in
primary school will have difficulty in altering their status later.
Disagreement and exclusion become a more serious problem in
one’s teens (due to clothes, different behaviour). Bullying and teas-
ing (verbal or physical) have been experienced by more than half
the children. When comparing Estonian and Finnish children, both
equally feel the fear of being bullied at school, but Finnish children
experience more the fear of being laughed at or ridiculed.
According to Estonian data there are 7% of bullies, 8% of vic-
tims and 2 % of bully-victims among public school students. In
recent years much attention has been called to depression and mel-
ancholy caused by overstrain, both in Estonian and Finnish schools
(Kõiv 2000, 43– 45; Mehilane 1997).
The number of children finishing basic school, who experience
tiredness, head and neck ache and irritability has risen, which refers
to overstrain. When talking about burn out syndrome among 15-
year-old students, these are students who are doing their best, and
are excellent in their studies, but still feel dissatisfaction (Arola
2000). It is said that every tenth 15-year-old Finnish student has
psychic problems and needs adult help. Cases of psychosomatic
troubles (disorders) are more frequent among Estonian children
than Finnish ones (Kraav & Raudik 1998; Lahikainen et al. 1995).
Disorders caused by wrong work and lifestyle is compensated for
through smoking, drugs, and alcohol (Arola 2000).
Opportunities for hobbies or attending youth activity groups
can deepen exclusion — the deficit of belonging somewhere or
possessing something occurs. The opportunities for attending
youth organisations or hobby-clubs are regionally different; they
are better in large cities and worse in the countryside, and, e.g., in
South East Estonia. Participation in such activities also depends on
the values and possibilities of the particular child and family (Palu
2000, 23–25). In the worst case, the child is not only excluded from
social activities but even drops out of school. An abundance of spare
time makes the child vulnerable to all kinds of temptations, school
becomes more repugnant, and the need for communication is satis-
fied by belonging to asocial or antisocial groups. 2.6% of Estonian
children between the ages of 8 and 14 years do not attend school,
approximately 4 000 school children (Tiit & Eglon 2000, 19–20).
The increase of risk behaviour in youth and children is accompa-
nied by social exclusion – such children do not care or are not able
to make choices useful for their further normal development. Being
embittered, they may choose self-destructive behaviour, start using
drugs and deny a healthy lifestyle. On the other hand, anti-social
behaviour itself increases the risk of being excluded.
Statistics reveal that using alcohol has become more frequent
even among the youngest age groups, and that gender differences
in using alcohol are no longer as significant. This tendency has
also been noticed in neighbouring countries (Eik 2000, 52– 53). In
addition to alcohol, substance abuse is also increasing drastically
(Kalikova 2000, 54–56).
According to our data, a direct link has been noticed between
parents’ attitude to drugs and children’s attitudes and behaviour.
Social pedagogy has undergone less steady and general develop-
ment, although it can be traced to the beginning of the century
Unlike social work, social pedagogy strives to relieve and prevent
social problems using pedagogical means, however, it is not easy
to draw the line between these two fields. Social support can be
observed from five aspects: material, practical activity, informative,
emotional and mental support (Tulva 1996); the first two aspects
dominate, and can easily be distinguished in social pedagogy, the
last two aspects are generally necessary when dealing with children,
and the third one (informative-counselling, teaching and practice)
is directly connected with social pedagogy.
The principle difference between the two fields could be that
when the aim of counselling, teaching and practising in social work
is coping with life, then the aim of social pedagogy is to teach and
model qualities which should enable people to cope. In real life the
difference between these two areas is not so significant.
Questionnaires for Estonian social workers have revealed that
they perceive their field of work and tasks to be very large-scale and
time and energy consuming even without the socio-pedagogical
Social policy is developing in parallel with social pedagogy
To date, only social workers have been trained in Estonia. This
started at the Tallinn Pedagogical Institute in 1991. The educating
of social pedagogues has been more problematic: there has been no
vivid conception about the nature of social pedagogues and social
pedagogy. We could conditionally distinguish three visions:
1 A social pedagogue as a low level social worker, not requiring a
long period of schooling nor higher education
2 A social pedagogue as a special teacher, whose curriculum
includes subjects concerning social work
3 A social pedagogue who has higher education, based on a spe-
All three visions somehow rely on the traditions of other countries.
It has not been an easy task to find the optimal solution for Esto-
nia. The domain of social work was new and just developing in the
1990s — the attitude towards pedagogy was negative — and it was
considered as normative behaviour science under the influence of
communist ideology. Therefore social pedagogy curricula have been
begun and ended in different universities, but it has yet to find its
place in Estonian academic life.
The main question in social pedagogy is what society should do
with its socially excluded members, those who, for some reason,
have not integrated into society. Integration problems in social
pedagogy are analysed from the pedagogical standpoint, and
attempts are made at finding pedagogical solutions. Attempts have
been made to define factors which are favourable and destructive
towards integration, in terms of the development of the individual
and society, and also to find pedagogical strategies to avoid and
relieve disassociation and non-integration (Hämäläinen 1997,
15 – 16). The self-awareness and self-reliance of an individual in a
risk group are developed in order to activate self-help. The social
teacher’s objective is to help the excluded person (or person at risk
of exclusion) to become aware of the reasons for his/her problems,
and possibilities for changing lifestyle. Following this, he /she would
be able to establish his/her status as a social subject, and gain the
ability to make his/her own decisions, participate in society and live
a full-value life as a member of that society.
Alongside long-term pedagogical strategies, projects and meth-
ods, the here and now methods of solving acute problem situations
belong to the practise of social pedagogy (Hämäläinen 1997, 15–16).
In ideal conditions, these methods and strategies should be associ-
ated with and complement each other.
As social exclusion tends to be carried over from generation
to generation, the pedagogical strategies, in order to lessen social
problems, often include the position which crosses the borders of
generations. This being so, reasons for problems, their appearance,
influences and possible solutions are observed over a longer period,
through several generations. This will strengthen the family-centred
approach in socio-pedagogical theory and practise.
Doubt has been expressed that exaggerating the family-centred
approach (Virtanen 1996, 31–33) may hinder us from concentrating
on a child’s real problems. It seems to be inevitable in social peda-
gogy, although a child’s interests come first and foremost, that the
main environment in which the child grows up, his relations, and
problems caused by these factors, are ignored from a pedagogical
point of view. Therefore, we proceed here from socio-ecocultural
theory (Tulva 1996, 10–11), which contrary to hindering the child
being seen as a separate individual, encourages it.
One of the main tasks of social pedagogy is to support parent
and family education, but the field of activities it involves is wider
and varied. Interest in the differences between homes and the qual-
ity of child rearing has increased in recent years. Several scientific
institutions and the third sector are studying the home as the child’s
growing environment in order to apply the results in family train-
Destroying barriers between the child’s different growing envi-
ronments, developing pedagogical know-how among parents and
strengthening relations between the home and educational institu-
tions are factors which are considered especially important regard-
ing a socio-pedagogical approach.
The guidance and counselling of parents are, in practice, carried
out by kindergarten and school teachers; teachers who follow the
Step by step programme have been especially effective.
The fact that in everyday practice teachers have most contact
with those parents whose children are in least danger of becoming
socially excluded should be taken into consideration.
Parents have withdrawn from school year by year, and participa-
tion in parents’ meetings is decreasing. Parents fear and distrust
teachers, and vice versa.
As a result, the children who belong to the so-called deprivation
circle and need support and preventive socio-pedagogical work do
not always reach the influential sphere of teachers.
This year, the Estonian Union for Child Welfare and the leading
group from the Union of Student Counsellors initiated a training
programme for a group of teachers, to assist them in collaborating
with basic school students and their parents to prevent substance
In the 1990s, unions for child welfare were established in dif-
ferent city quarters and small towns. One reason for this was the
need to compensate for insufficient attention on the part of society
towards families with children, to implement network principles
to introduce assistants and people who need help, to connect the
child’s social network with the network of officials. Although the
socio-pedagogical approach and the unions for child welfare’s work-
ing methods are clearly perceived, the workers identify themselves
as social workers.
Co-operation between parents of children with disabilities and
professionals is relatively close, and a part of this work is coherently
of socio-pedagogical character. The Union of Parents with Mentally
Handicapped Children was established already in 1990, in addition
to that some other parents of handicapped children have joined in
order to facilitate participation in counselling and help.
The Family Education Institute was established in 1998 to reach
better the parents of children facing the risk of social exclusion. It
has taken responsibility for counselling, educating and supporting
parents according to their needs. It can be expected that it is easier
for parents to seek help from a so-called neutral source rather than
from teachers, whose attitudes towards the child might become
worse if they learn about his problems and home situation. The
Family Education Institute tries to carry on the tradition of Home
Counselling Centres, which were established in the 1930s, and are
facing all kinds of economic problems: the idea is to counsel and
support parents who need help in raising their children.
The conviction that a teacher’s task is only to teach, provide
knowledge and skills is typical to the contemporary Estonian
school. A good teacher could just be the one who is competent
in his subject. Competence cannot of course be underestimated,
students who make progress in school have better possibilities of
integrating into society, a greater number of choices, and better
future prospects. Unfortunately, however, it is not so simple. Teach-
ers’ skills and competence do not guarantee even the lowest level of
knowledge, and the problem does not have to be in learning capa-
bility – studies reveal that the higher the level of classes, the smaller
number of the students who fall behind in their studies due to their
learning abilities. Genetic potential is also different among the stu-
dents facing difficulties or dropping out of school — even talented
students belong to this group. Difficulties are caused by problems
concerning the student’s personality. Potential students who might
cause problems are students with communication problems, and
those who experience fear and anxiety for any given reason.
The task of a teacher is not only to provide good subject
knowledge; if it were, teachers could be replaced by computer pro-
grammes or textbooks. A good teacher should be capable of coping
with complex and unpredictable school life situations, and assisting
children in solving their problems. In order to guarantee social inte-
gration we need value-education in addition to providing subject
knowledge — not so much teaching but educating on the whole.
Our teachers, coming from a totalitarian society, do not have a
good model and experience in value-teaching. Therefore, the idea of
teaching morals and ethics in school is perceived as a return to the
authoritarian dogmas. However, school should be the place where
a child, regardless of his family background, is able to cognise and
accept general human values, without which the idea of a society
assisting and supporting weaker members is inconceivable.
To develop the socio-pedagogical potential of school, it is neces-
sary to raise not only the socio-pedagogical level of every teacher
(although this is welcome), but also to create a position of social
teacher at school. Although social teachers could work in youth
centres, the best chance of reaching all students in need of assistance
is to work at a comprehensive school.
While speaking about the development of social pedagogy, we
cannot state that all schools will have their own social pedagogue
in future. Although the position of school psychologist was created,
with much difficulty, for bigger schools some decades ago, it has
still not been staffed in many schools, and it is not even specified
for smaller schools. The plan to bring a social pedagogue to school
often encounters the deep-rooted idea or dream — if only we could
get at least a school psychologist!
We see the functions of a social pedagogue as more extensive
compared to a school psychologist. His competence includes work
with parents, helping and guiding the students who need support,
as well as a capacity for doing preventive work.
Considering the development of a student’s personality, cycles
of subjects called human studies have been worked out in Estonian
schools. The target of the subject is to provide knowledge to enable
a student to solve problems concerning his development and social
relations. Knowledge gained by human studies is intended to sup-
port the student in coping as a personality and a member of the
society. It should help him to become socially mature and an active
citizen, who can acknowledge his rights and duties.
The education of social pedagogues (as planned in Tartu Univer-
sity) should provide them with competence in teaching the subject
of human studies. Teaching this subject will enable social peda-
gogues to become more closely acquainted with students, and create
possibilities to get in close contact with socially excluded students
or those students at risk of exclusion.
The key problem from the standpoint of a person and the society
is how to prevent social exclusion and help a student to gain sub-
ject-based development, abilities and management skills needed in
society. Even if a student is only facing the risk of exclusion, he can
be afraid and painfully aware of his risky status, and due to these
negative future visions, is just not capable of finding opportuni-
ties for social activities. Feelings of exclusion in early childhood
should not lead to exclusion in adulthood, work and society on
the whole—it is essential that children’s problems are noticed and
resolved as early as possible, in order to avoid a deterioration of the
Parents, family and home are undergoing rapid development in
society (the changing speed is especially remarkable in the post-
socialist world). Home is not the same it was in our parent’s child-
hood. One cannot expect all parents to succeed in their educational
work, without helping those who cannot meet the requirements of
the society. Socio-pedagogical work with parents on different levels
will prevent the development of social exclusion.
The more serious the parenting problems, the more relevant it is
to implement the idea of school as an educational institution, and
not just a teaching one.
Clifford (1990) has blamed school for its favouring educational
suicide, common features of which are apathy, lack of considera-
tion and acting below one’s potential. The creation of a positive
and optimistic educational atmosphere at school depends on every
school worker and teacher. Similarly, it is too much to expect a
teacher, who has many other duties, to notice signs predicting social
exclusion and take responsibility for individual or group work with
students and their parents to prevent and lessen the risk of social
exclusion. Therefore school (and the society) needs specially edu-
cated professionals—social pedagogues—to tackle the socio-peda-
The range of activities of a social pedagogue includes problems
with social roots in:
• learning and behavioural problems based on social back-
• exclusion in the classroom and society in general;
• children ignoring compulsory school attendance; antisocial and
• using drugs/drug addiction;
• school and home co-operation;
• vocational counselling;
• deficiency of children’s social skills.
The operations of social pedagogues should include not only the
application of interference strategies, but also preventive and edu-
Levels of socio-pedagogical work at school:
• individual counselling and guidance for students;
• pedagogical group activity—it can be combined with teaching
human studies, which is the task of a social pedagogue. This
provides an opportunity to become acquainted with students’
problems and gain closer contacts with risk group students;
• pedagogical family work, working with parents (assisting parent-
ing and preventive activities, individually and in groups).
Social pedagogues are also needed outside the school: in educational
work with young people, child welfare services, all kinds of support-
ive systems, organisations and projects, which have been established
to help, counsel and support children.
Socio-pedagogical work at school and outside the school should
form a perfect and complete system in order to lessen and prevent
students’ social exclusion.
This is why such high expertise is required: without equivalent
knowledge or skills, one cannot cope, either at school, or in youth
or family work. The key solution is socio-pedagogical studies that,
on the basis of good knowledge of pedagogics and psychology,
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