Traditionally, nuclear families have lived separately in cities. In rural areas, on the contrary, it was not uncommon for as many as three generations to live together. It was often the case, however, that older couples built themselves a new house near their old home, which was left to a married son or daughter who was to begin having children. Since World War I and perhaps earlier, there has been a trend throughout Estonia toward separation of nuclear families. During the period of independence between the world wars, the fertility rate fell, and the government tried to stimulate births by means of financial bonuses.
Prior to independence in 1918, Estonian schooling was not well developed because of the harsh economic conditions imposed on the people by the ruling class of landlords. After independence, and after a sufficient number of school buildings were erected, education became compulsory for those between 8 and 16 years of age. English, German, French, and Russian were taught as foreign languages. In addition, there were colleges and lyceums as well as an entire network of vocational schools. The Soviet occupation in 1940 abolished this system entirely and substituted the Soviet system. Although many students attended Estonian-language schools, they were required to study Russian as well; others attended Russian-language schools. No Estonian history was taught until 1957, and after that only small amounts. Political indoctrination was of prime importance in the curriculum.
The contemporary Estonian formal educational system is free of charge. Attendance is compulsory for eleven years. Primary education spans eight years, the secondary level four years, and the university level five years.