Why is Estonia Leading the Technological Academic Revolution
Following the 1991 realization of Estonia’s longtime quest for independence from the Soviet Union, the 90s were fraught with sweeping change–including the increased imperative of technological advancement. With a population of a mere 1.4 people at the time, Ilves’ goal was to increase the scope of functionality across the country through advanced technological directives, particularly by revolutionizing the country’s approach toward education.
In a 2013 BBC News article, Ilves compared the priority of offering computer programming at an early age to that of offering foreign language education, concluding that the former was actually a more logical conclusion in terms of propelling future national and global growth.
And so the Tiger Leap Foundation was born. This government-backed entity invests in technology–specifically as it relates to bringing modern technology to the schools. As of early 1997, this was a pipe dream: 150 of Estonia’s schools still relied on dial-up connections to the internet, while only 10 schools in total had a permanent connection. Less than ten years later, all Estonian schools were not only online, but were outfitted with the most sophisticated modern technologies, including interactive whiteboards, robotic sets, programmable embroidery, CNC machines and digital data loggers.
But the curriculum isn’t centered on computers for computer’s sake. At its core, if is focused on foundational principles: students not only learn technology, but also real-world applications. Clearly, it’s working. Estonian students are now ranked alongside leading countries like Norway, Switzerland and Iceland on Pisa tests for science, math and reading, despite logging comparatively low classroom hours. Read more about studying in Estonia here.
Those Who CAN Do Teach
For students to reap the full potential of Tiger Leap’s initiatives, teaching staff and administrators must be kept apace. Programs for academic leaders are focused on incorporating the latest tools and teaching methods to help colleagues plan, share and implement best practices.
Estonia is part of a network of European countries focused on innovation in technology, European Schoolnet (EUN). This consortium promotes a shared discourse and international cooperation, through programs like eTwinning, a web-based platform for teachers to connect and collaborate, which has been embraced by nearly 10 percent of teachers in Estonia, as compared to a significantly smaller fraction of participation for other involved countries. Additional programs like Innovative Technologies for Engaging Classrooms (iTec), which works with strategic partners to apply learning technology to classrooms; and inGenious, a collaborative effort of the European Coordinating Body in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Education and the European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERT), which is focused on reform through key partnerships between industry leaders,the Ministries of Education and the schools themselves.