In this article, I want to – actually, let’s start with a disclaimer: we will not discuss how dangerous the disease is on a scale from 1 to 19 or which country is implementing the most effective policies. Instead, I would like to share with you some of the implications that the recent developments have had for the e-Estonia Briefing Centre and how digitalisation has made life easier for many citizens in Estonia right now.
One of the most regrettable but equally understandable reactions to Covid-19 was that many delegations decided to cancel their visit to Tallinn. Instead of sticking our heads in the proverbial sand, however, we are offering these groups webinars in lieu of presentations at the e-Estonia Briefing Centre. Of course, nothing can fully replace the experience of discovering a country and meeting decision-makers in person, but these webinars enable us to continue to offer information and recommendations regarding digitalisation and e-governance to policymakers, business leaders, academics and journalists around the world.
Similarly, several representatives of the e-Estonia Briefing Centre (including myself) were scheduled to give keynotes and join for panel discussions at a number of conferences across the globe. Some of these were postponed, but other organisers have decided to battle on and offer a digital format of their conference. The first of these will happen on Friday 13 at the Leipzig International Book Fair, where I will participate in a digital panel discussion on the very appropriate topic “Small but big: e-Baltics” at 12:30 CET.
I personally love attending these conferences, mingling with decision-makers, exchanging contacts, and having conversations that could, butterfly effect-like, change the world. I believe that there are very good reasons for having physical gatherings of people. But it’s truly remarkable to see how quickly we are able to adapt and still relay most of the information thanks to the digital solutions that are at our disposal.
Speaking of digital solutions, the Estonian government decided to digitalise all learning materials by the end of this year – that plan, by the way, was made already in 2015. This is something that I am sure comes in rather handy right now as Estonia is also dealing with its first handful of cases. As a result, one school in Tallinn decided to temporarily close its doors, but vowed to keep its students occupied with online learning material [as of 13.03 emergency situation has been announced with all schools closed]. So, while many other nations around the world have to think about what a digital curriculum would look like and how it could be implemented, Estonian Minister of Education Mailis Reps calmly declared: “The most important thing is that teaching gets done and that teachers are involved in the organisation of home schooling. The children will not fall behind in their studies while we deal with the consequences.”
Elections are another area where you would usually expect a lot of people bunched up in confined spaces. Italy is barely trailing Iran for the third-most Covid-19 infections and postponed a constitutional referendum that was penned in for late March. At the time of writing, South Korea is the country with the second-most cases behind China, and the government has thus far not shown any intention to postpone the National Assembly election in mid-April. I do not want to comment on whether I deem this dangerous or not. What I can say is that Estonians can vote online since 2005 and that without any looming health concerns back in May 2019, almost half of all votes cast on behalf of Estonia (46.7%) were cast online in the European Parliament election.
Overall, I am expecting Estonia to struggle a lot less with the economic fallout of Covid-19 as well, because we can access 99% of government services online. Elsewhere, you might have to file your income tax declaration or register your car or company at a government office – in Estonia, that is simply not an issue. This means that the disruption to our everyday lives will be a lot less pronounced than it is in other countries and there are fewer opportunities for the disease to spread.