How did Estonia become a new role model in digital education?

Estonia, the leading education nation in Europe – number one in PISA testing in Europe – has become a role model for digital education; Estonians have made ICT work for education, and they have several solutions that fully support distance learning.

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Estonia, the Northern European nation of just 1.3 million people, has attracted the attention of world leaders, academics and venture capitalists thanks to its high-tech digital society.

The numbers speak for themselves: taxes are completed online in less than five minutes, 99% of Estonia’s public services are available on the web 24 hours a day, and 99%  of schools had already – before COVID-19 – been using various e-solutions.

“Estonia’s education system is at the top of the world thanks to the fact that there is an equal access to education and we are able to smartly use technological solutions for enhanced learning and teaching,” the Estonian minister of education and research, Mailis Reps, said.

Schoolchildren at the Gustav Adolf Grammar School in Tallinn. Photo by Kristjan Salum.

Over the past 20 years, Estonia has undertaken multiple reforms that have made obtaining education more learner-centred, modern and forward-looking. We have applied the best practices from other countries and have been assertive in discovering and trying new things.

But how did Estonia become a new role model in digital education?

Schooling is in the cloud

A key initiative started in education as Estonia pledged to put computers in every classroom. By 2000, every school in the country was online. The government also offered free computer training to 10% of the adult population. These efforts helped raise the percentage of Estonians who use the internet from 29% in 2000 to 91% in 2016.

Since 2014, Estonians have a lifelong learning strategy that also includes a digital transformation programme. It aims to help develop the digital competencies of both teachers and students. IT training courses and instructional materials helped integrate digital technology into the learning process to develop digital competence.

Another milestone was Estonia setting the goal in 2015 of digitalising all educational materials. The success of the digital transformation of the Estonian education system relies on thorough professional development and training of teachers and educational technologists.

In addition to teaching knowledge and skills in the digital field, Estonian education widely uses numerous smart solutions: digital databases, digital textbooks, e-learning materials, a digital class diary, digital assessments, not to mention various applications and programmes.

Various e-solutions ultimately make students’ schoolbags lighter, helping carry knowledge instead of a heavy schoolbag, improving posture and making learning smarter. Today, Estonian schooling is mostly in the cloud. One hundred per cent of schools use e-school solutions (eg eKool, Stuudium). These innovative tools provide easy ways for parents, teachers and children to collaborate and organise all the information necessary for teaching and learning.

Education Nation, for the smartEST people in the world

“Having a well-established startup ecosystem for educational companies in place for some years now, schools are supported to a great extent with e-services from the private sector,” Kristel Rillo, the head of digital education at the ministry of education and research, said.

She added that educational e-services have been significant for Estonian students and teachers for years and it made also organising distance learning a lot easier. 

It’s not all about computers: Estonian schoolchildren playing with vegetable cards at school. Photo by Aino Kallas.

To share its knowledge and expertise to other countries, Estonia has created a brand called Education Nation under which it will directly sell or intermediate the principal components, whether it be digital solutions, consulting, training, study visits or similar.

Cover: Children are not just allowed to play with tablet computers in Estonian schools – they are expected to. Photo by Margit Sellik.

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