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Digitalisation in service of education nation

In the beginning of December OECD announced the results of PISA 2018 assessment. It’s a triennial report that reflects the state of education across the world, based on measuring 15-year-olds’ abilities in reading, maths and science. The latest results showed that Estonia ranks first in Europe in PISA results in all areas assessed. Estonia also stands out in the number of students pursuing ICT studies – more than twice as many students, in fact, than the average in other OECD countries.

We discussed the combination of education and digitalisation with Kristen Lahtein, Head of the European Union and International Cooperation Department at the Ministry of Education and Research.

Estonia’s education system is recognised worldwide as rather strong, especially in the light of the latest PISA results. What part do digital solutions play in this?

The skills of Estonian students rank 1st in Europe according to the OECD’s international survey PISA. Our good results show that we have made right choices in our education policy and suggest that Estonia’s education system is effective and ensures equity – compared to other countries. Of course, we are proud of our achievements, but we think that education is the goal not tests.

Digital skills and competences play essential roles in Estonian education and digital solutions support learning and teaching. Success of the digital transformation of 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, digital class diary, digital assessments, not to mention various applications and programs.

How does Estonia support educators in bridging the digital gap between generations?

Since 2014 we have a lifelong learning strategy that includes also a digital transformation programme. The idea of the programme is to help develop the digital competences of both, the teachers and the students. IT-training courses will be offered and instructional materials will be created for integrating digital technology into the learning process in order to develop the digital competence of teachers and university teaching personnel. Teachers in schools and universities will be also provided support with educational technology to maximize the opportunities that the digital age provides in their work.

How difficult it is to get schools on board with using digital aids in education and tying non-ICT subjects with technology?

Schools and school leaders do understand the importance of digital skills and are mostly eager to use new technologies and digital solutions. In order to support the objectives and the achievement of the study results outlined in the curricula of schools, the availability of digital learning resources will be ensured. This will include e-textbooks, interactive exercises, open educational resources, teachers’ guides, and web-based assessment tools.

Can you estimate the benefits of using digital solutions in education?

First thing to mention is that various e-solutions ultimately make students’ schoolbags lighter: helping carry knowledge instead of a heavy schoolbag, improving posture, and making learning smarter. The Estonian school is mostly in the cloud, however, alongside digitization, books and traditional activities are valued as well.

87% of schools use e-school solutions (i.e. eKool, Stuudium).These innovative tools provide an easy way for parents, teachers and children to collaborate and organize all the information necessary for teaching and learning.

What are the next steps in innovating the Estonian education system?

The next step is probably renewing the digital infrastructure in all schools. Also by 2020, schools will be able to provide general education using only digital learning materials.

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