Culture Backpacks

Estonian Ministry of Culture,
08 August 2022, Estonia

The Culture Backpacks programme is a support measure created under the leadership of the Ministry of Culture that, in cooperation with schools and municipalities, enables children and young people to attend theatre performances, and the cinema, go to museums and participate in other events as part of their study programme. The financing helps children and young people develop both the subject competencies prescribed by the national curriculum, as well as to grow into creative and multi-faceted people. Thereby, the Culture Backpacks programme contributes to the development of both the creators and the audience.

Why was the measure created?

Despite the fact that the national curriculum includes the possibility of organising learning outside of schools (including, for example, in museums, performances venues and exhibitions), the students' opportunities to visit museums, exhibitions, theatre performances or concerts depend on the interest and motivation of their teachers and the school principals, as well as the financial resources of the parents. Surveys have indicated that study tours have occurred randomly to date and are not part of children’s formal education and have not been systematically integrated into the studies that takes place during the academic year.

Since basic education is free, and according to the law, the school may not request co-financing from students or parents for studies that are based on the school's curriculum, it is not possible to organise mandatory study visits to cultural institutions for students. In the case of extracurricular activities, costs may be covered by co-financing, but extracurricular activities are optional for the student. Therefore, in order to develop the cultural and value competences prescribed in the curriculum, teachers must do additional work with the students who are missing out due to a lack of money. At the same time, if parents are financially well-off, it does not always mean that the family attends cultural events or goes to museums in their free time. 

How large is the Culture Backpack? And who is it meant for?

In 2022, €1 million of support has been added to the previous allocation for the study trips of students in elementary private, state and municipal schools. On average, the amount is €7.61 per primary school student (€6.64 in the main cities, up to €13.56 in sparsely populated areas).All the schools must ensure that the support also reaches elementary school children, who are being schooled at home.

Support for the students in municipal schools is allocated local governments funds as part of their support for general education. Allocations from the theatre support fund are distributed in accordance with the support fund regulation (see §1(14)). Local governments can find information regarding the distribution of the equalisation and support fund on the Ministry of Finance website under “Yearly distribution of the equalisation and support fund". Support for students attending state and private schools is allocated as operating support from the budget of the Ministry of Education and Research. 

Naturally, we would like to increase the amount of support per student in the future, in order to increase the diversity of the cultural institutions and events to be visited, but this depends on the possibilities provided by the national budget. The minimum support could be increased to €53 per student. For example, this would make it possible for students to annually participate in one or two museum classes, attend a concert or theatrical performance, one art exhibition and one movie.

Why is this programme limited to primary schools?

Initially, basic schools are included, because basic education comprises the minimum mandatory general education. If the measure is well received and the state budget enables it, it will hopefully be expanded to cover both high school and kindergarten students.

How can the schools use the money and during what period? Is there anywhere to apply?

Schools do not have to submit applications to the Ministry of Culture or the Ministry of Education and Research, the money has already been allocated in the 2022 state budget. Support for students in municipal schools is allocated through the local government support fund as part of the support of general education and the allocation of the money is organised by the local governments. The appropriation for state and private school students is allocated as operating support from the Ministry of Education and Research budget. All the schools must ensure that the elementary school children who are schooled at home also receive the allocated support. The grant can be used from 1 January to 31 December 2022.

What can the money be used for? 

Schools can use the Culture Backpack support for study trips (visits to museums, theatres, concerts, cinemas and exhibitions) that are related to the programme of studies established by the school’s curriculum. The money can be used to buy tickets for cultural institutions and events and to order special programs, as well as to cover travel expenses. It cannot be used for general educational field trips that are not mandatory for all students, and for extracurricular activities.

In other respects, the choice (for example, the number of performances, exhibitions and museum lessons to be visited, time or organisation thereof) is left up to the schools. The school and the teacher are the most competent to decide which courses of study are best adapted to the study programme of the respective class in a given year.

It is recommended that the schools prepare three-year courses of study, so the activities are well-thought-out and systematic, and provide equal opportunities for the students in the same grades during different years. The course of study should cover at least an entire school level and ensure that all the sub-fields of culture are covered within three years.  

What do teachers have to do if they want take their classes on field trips? 

How the study tours have been planned to date apparently differs from one school to another. Any teachers who have never been on field trips with their classes before, need to ask their school principals or heads of studies education how the system is organised in the school. The special feature of Culture Backpack programme is that neither the children nor parents can be asked for co-financing, and the study trip must take place at a cultural institution or cultural event and be related to the school curriculum.

How is the reporting organised?

Neither the Ministry of Culture nor the Ministry of Education and Research require expenditure documentation for the allocated support. However, the Ministry of Culture plans to periodically monitor how the use of the support has progressed. At the beginning of May, we will send out the first survey, and ask the schools to indicate the total amount of money that has been spent on educational trips during the first four months, and how much was covered by the Culture Backpack measure.

How does this impact cultural institutions? 

Cultural institutions do not have to check or keep records of how much money is spent on the classes attending any specific events.  However, cultural institutions can clearly state the following in their proposals to the schools, i.e. which age group is it intended for, which (general) competences it supports or which curriculum topics it covers.