TI Estonia published a handbook on participatory budgeting for schools


During the last academic year, four schools across Estonia conducted participatory budgeting in cooperation with the NGO Transparency International Estonia and The Estonian Cooperation Assembly. By now, guidance material for conducting the process independently has been completed, and schools are expected to join with the project this autumn.

Participatory budgeting is an initiative in which a school allocates a certain amount of money from its budget, the use of which is decided by the students. As in local governments, students can come up with ideas to improve school life. The ideas are then developed into mini-projects, and finally, an election takes place, where the school community can choose their favourite idea or ideas.

In the 2020/2021 academic year, the following schools participated in the project:

  • Tartu Annelinna Gymnasium, where an air hockey table was bought;
  • Tallinn Rahumäe Basic School, where an open air classroom was renovated, hammocks were acquired and musical breaks and school radio were set up;
  • Keeni Basic School, where a small zoo and an open air classroom were established;
  • Rapla Gymnasium, where table tennis tables and outdoor chairs were purchased.

Participatory budgeting has been introduced to schools because we often hope that the new generation will make our country even more ethical and fair. According to Carina Paju, the CEO of TI Estonia, research does not prove it. “We know from surveys that Estonian young people are more tolerant of corruption than other age groups and do not recognize it as well. Of particular concern were the results of the Global Corruption Barometer published in June, which showed that for more than fifth of the youngsters, effective governance is even more important than freedom from corruption. Therefore, in order to raise both democratic values and awareness of corruption, young people must be approached differently than we have done before - the experience of democracy has to start from school and with direct experience,” Paju explained.

As a result of participatory budgeting in Estonian schools, students’ knowledge of how to participate in schools’ decision-making processes improved. The number of students who understand the school budgeting sufficiently or very well increased by ⅔. It also became more important for students to be able to decide on the school’s budget and 7 out of 10 students would like to see participatory budgeting repeated in their school.

It can also be seen that for students who were actively involved in participatory budgeting, participation in school’s decision-making processes, such as school budget, has become more important. In addition, students whose ideas made it to the final election round, had a better understanding of the school budget, actively took part in voting and recommended their school and participatory budgeting to their peers more than less active students.

The Estonian Cooperation Assembly created a special website kaasavkool.rahvaalgatus.ee for participatory budgeting, which is free of charge for schools and where schools can post the ideas that have been voted on and conduct e-voting. “In this environment, many youngsters get the opportunity to gain experience using an ID-card, Mobile-ID or Smart-ID for the first time - just like in real elections. In this way, during the project, students will also develop their digital skills, which can be applied in the participatory processes at the local and national level in the future as well, commented Kadri Org, expert in the field of democracy at The Estonian Cooperation Assembly.

This autumn, the coordinators expect three schools with Estonian-Russian students to join. “With the support of the Integration Foundation, the aim this autumn is to reach schools located in the region with a larger Russian-speaking population and who have joined the language immersion program. According to the survey, Russian-speaking youngsters - especially in Ida-Viru County - are less active in society than young people in other Estonian regions. We want to change this through direct democratic experience,” Paju added.

In order to apply, the school should send an application to carina.paju@transparency.ee. In order to participate, the school must be ready to allocate a freely chosen amount of money from its budget and implement the project before December 15.

A handbook has been compiled for schools that do not fit into the program this time. It is a comprehensive and illustrative guide that can be used by teachers or other leaders in schools to conduct participatory budgeting.