Estonia: educational continuity’s success relies on both human and technology
Since the 13th of March, all schools are closed until the 1st of May with questioning about the conduct of the end of year secondary school examinations. Following the declaration of the state of emergency declared by the Estonian government on the 12th of March, the Education switched online the following Monday. The first three days were a bit bumpy with access difficulties, then the process began. It works so well that Estonia even offers to share its primary and secondary education tools free of charge with other countries.
For the past twenty-five years, the country has relied on the education of its children because, in the words of Kersti Kaljulaid, President of the Republic, “the only resource we have is between our two ears“. This effort is bearing fruit as a few months ago earned them the number one spot on the PISA Europe podium.
I am sharing with you an interview that I had with Meelis Kond who is the director of the “21° school of Tallinn. I previously met him on the spot in May 2019 during a study trip I had organized for a French local authority. We had been amazed by the pedagogical content of some of the courses and in particular by the entrepreneurship courses for twelve-year-old students. The teaching was totally adapted to their age, since that day one group was selling ice cr,eam and the other clothing if I remember correctly. We had also spent some time in the robotics room and were pleasantly surprised at the number of students reading in the quiet library.
Interview with Meelis Kond:
– How did you organize the pedagogical continuity of the teachings?
In distance learning, all classes continue studying according to the school curriculum. There have been informative meetings for teachers where general principles for the work have been outlined. Teachers can use a virtual teachers’ room where meetings and training sessions are held, and one can ask for advice and chat with colleagues. School administration, IT specialists, educational technologist and other specialists form a supportive and assisting body for the teachers. Teachers and students are welcome to borrow various IT devices from school: laptops, iPads and document cameras.
– What channels do teachers use to communicate with students?
Different channels of communication are used to interact with pupils:
- Emails, mailing lists
- Video conference calls
- Telephone calls
– Do all teachers use the same ones?
Teachers do not use all the same channels of communication. It depends on the school level the students are at as well as the channels used previously. Using traditional and routine channels of communication is more convenient and stress-free. The most common ones are ekool* and Facebook while as OFFICE365 teams, Skype, and Zoom are more frequently used for video meetings.
– Which platfom is more used?
eKool is the official and main channel providing all the information concerning the lessons and teaching assignments.
– Do you use the e-schoolbag?
It is used as a source of teaching assignments and/or additional material.
– Did you have to change/adapt the programs? if so, which ones?
The Office365 Teams has been introduced as it enables to work with students in a unique digital environment – communicating with students in real-time and giving instructions and feedback to them at a convenient time both for the students as well as teachers.
– Do all students work with a digital tool, computer, or tablet?
All students have the necessary IT tools to participate in distance learning. Students have smartphones that can be used for communication. IT devices are often shared within the family and therefore, pupils may not be able to use the computers at all time. The deadlines for assignments requiring the use of a computer are set so that they enable the students to plan their homework flexibly.
– Do parents have to take over from teachers?
Parents are willing to cooperate and assist and support their children. Cooperation between teachers and parents is most intense in primary classes. The older the students, the more independent they are in their learning process. The feedback received so far has revealed that parents are very much involved and are often participating, both outdoors and in more creative activities.
– Are there video conferencing classes?
Video conferencing is increasing daily. Video lessons are used for teaching, tutoring, seminars and re-taking tests and class sessions. Mostly OFFICE365 teams, Skype, and Zoom are used for video meetings.
– What difficulties did you encounter?
The information was provided in one central platform (eKool). During the first few days several technical problems were encountered: eKool shut down, setting up teachers ‘ computers, dealing with user account related issues. Also, optimizing the learning load and introducing more advanced use of video lessons
– What are the positive experiences?
Students thought it was nice working with classmates and teachers who were helpful and supportive. They liked the first video lessons and the creative and diverse learning assignments. They also have highlighted new, interesting and varied learning environments and stressed that it was good and peaceful to learn at their own pace.
Teachers received positive feedback from both students and parents. The cooperation between teachers has increased and the first video lessons were successful. Teachers enjoyed learning, testing and implementing various technical options, e-environments in order to create innovative and interesting tasks. The teachers also were pleased by their students’ active and thoughtful reactions.
Parents have underlined interesting and creative learning assignments, efficient communication and first experiments in video learning. They recognized the creativity and inventiveness of teachers and the creation of a relaxed study environment. Students learned about independence and ownership and used the opportunities to organize their studies flexibly
*eKool (e-School) is a platform centralizing information on the progress of schooling (grades, comments, notifications, assignments, tests, lesson content, absences, delays, pedagogical reports and parent-teacher dialogue). All parents of primary and secondary school students use eKool to monitor their child’s schooling on a daily basis.
**e-Schoolbag “the digital schoolbag” is a portal of digital learning materials, developed by the Ministry of Education and Research. The portal hosts basic, general and vocational teaching resources, including digital learning materials classified by keywords based on the curriculum. The primary objective of e-Koolikott is to provide access to digital educational resources from a single point – the user no longer needs to search for resources on different portals.a national metadata system has been developed for the assignment of keywords, based on the structure and characteristics of the curriculum, topics covered, etc. A national metadata system has been developed for the assignment of keywords, based on curriculum structure and characteristics, topics covered, etc. It is possible to search for learning materials according to general competencies, cross-curricular topics, classes, levels of education, curriculum topics and types of learning materials.
- Teachers can create and use collections and share them with users (online textbooks, interactive games, worksheets and self-developed tasks)
- Collect statistics on learning materials;
- Users can leave comments on materials.
Violaine Champetier de Ribes
Co-author of: The full digital nation, Estonia a break in the GAFAM wall.