What is the goal of the Eesti 2.0 and who can participate in the platform?
The goal of Eesti 2.0 is to get more Estonian school kids interested in technology. We are targeting all of the students from 1st grade to the 12th in Estonian schools: there are 530 schools all over Estonia. We encourage all the kids to get more interested in technology; they should not be taken back by the fear that technology is only for the smartest or the best.
Since its inception, how has Eesti 2.0 evolved?
Eesti 2.0 launched in 2015 as a nonprofit organization started by Hardi Meybaum: one of the founders of the Estonian startup ecosystem. The first project was bringing 3D printers to Estonian schools—over 50 schools got the printers. Our 2nd and 3rd projects were also bringing tools to school. After sometime we decided that we will go straight to the students and we started our summer school project. We did the first summer school last year, which was held in Tartu. This summer, we are going to hold the 2nd one.
We expect them to build products there. It can either be a physical product or it can be an app, a platform, or any web-based product.
They will be working in teams of 5, and they will be mentored by real-life entrepreneurs who are prominent figures in the real world. Also, many of the mentors have international experience, which is something that some schools cannot offer kids.
How do you tailor your programs to accommodate different age groups and skill levels?
I think this actually how we prepare kids for their future in the job market, because when you go to work, you are hardly ever working with people from your own age group or peers who share the same interest as you. It can be difficult in the beginning; especially if you’re a 12th grader and you have work with an 8th grader or 6th grader. Sometimes, it can seem like, “why do I have to?” However, last year we had several kids from 7th grade, and you would not believe that they were younger than the other ones. They are just so smart and driven!
How would you address a student’s concern that they need experience to participate in this program?
So I would tell them don’t be afraid! You don’t have to be afraid that you don’t have enough tech skills. We cover different age groups and skills set.
We actually encourage people to form teams that will put people with different skills together.
So if you have one techy, you’d also need somebody who is good at marketing. Then you need someone who is good at designing, someone who can perform the testing, and someone has to be the project lead. This how we get different skills together and this how they support each other.
What was the inspiration for Eesti 2.0?
Back in the 1990s, there was the Tiger Leap foundation which actually started the process in Estonia. The initial idea was to bring internet and computers to the schools in Estonia, and this was where all the ‘Skypes’ were started since this became part of our national psyche.
And now, Eesti 2.0. The name implies that we are now aiming at the 2nd leap.
And we need to overcome. Somewhere in the middle there was left this gap, where we didn’t bridge these 2 generations, and now need to sew it back together.
In your view, why is STEM education necessary for children and young adults?
Our current president, Kersti Kaljulaid, has said learning math, physics, and chemistry are essential because these disciplines explain how the world works. You need the basic understanding, then on top of that is ‘Maslow’s Pyramid’: when you have the basic needs covered you can reach for the top.
I would stress not only STEM (Science, Technology, Education, Mathematics) but STEAM: integrating the arts as well.
Which is, again, overcoming this barrier. For many kids, they see the sciences as something too difficult. “I am not a math person”: that’s what you hear all the time. But you should approach math through something you’re good at, bring it into sort of real-life events, or explain it through how the world works. It’s obvious that STEM education is important, but more important is how you approach it. So you have to approach it through the connection to the real world.
What is the most gratifying aspect of working with/on Eesti 2.0?
Working with the kids. Just seeing the next generation: how smart they are, how driven they are, what great ideas they have! When you read the newspapers, you get really depressed with all the things happening in the world. Then in our summer school, you get to spend the whole week with those really smart kids. There’s a bright future ahead of us. It’s so gratifying!
Which Eesti 2.0 programs are you most proud of?
Obviously, the summer school program has been most gratifying for us because we can work with bright students and see the outcome there. We have a great example here [with reference to Sander]. Some kids in high school have become real entrepreneurs. Also, as I mentioned the 3D printers, which was a good illustration of how the public and private sector can work hand in hand.
What do you say to encourage students and parents to participate in Eesti 2.0?
That’s a good question because sometimes you need to encourage the parents more than the kids, because the kids would take to it intuitively. Whereas, parents are coming from the era when technology wasn’t part of their everyday lives. For instance, some schools still debate whether students should have screens in the classroom. And it’s some parents who oppose the measure: “They are only playing on the tablets so we shouldn’t even hand it out to them.” But I think this a discussion of the past. The discussion ought to be about what they’re doing on the screens. And this where the parents should be educating themselves first, then cooperating with the schools.
I think the goal should be to make the kids from passive receivers to active content producers.
So sometimes, we don’t need to encourage the kids, we need to educate the parents more.
What final pieces of advice would you offer to those interested in STEM?
Just get started! Eesti 2.0 or the Hüppelaud summer school will give you a great opportunity to overcome the fear that tech is something difficult, or that I am not good enough for that. In these teams you will find the best position for yourself, and how you can become useful for creating a product from scratch. And it free! It’s totally free! Free meals, free mentoring, and a great environment. Think big!