Just a short post about a school I am working with. It’s one of the new state grammar schools being created as part of a reform programme. By 2020 half of all the grammar schools in Estonia should be directly run by the Ministry of Education to ensure a certain quality level. It is also in an effort to organise the school system. This particular school got in touch with us and wanted to become a “pilot school” to test and develop the new approaches to teaching, learning and creating a school culture fit for the 21st Century according to the new educational strategy. They were keen to have the university’s involvement.
They opened their doors for the first time in September 2015 but the university started working with them already in February 2015. Back then the school was writing their curriculum (a basic document all schools are required to have) and trying engage with prospective teachers in the curriculum development efforts – we had a workshop together and meetings in smaller teams to brainstorm what the school should be like. We looked at different curriculums from other schools and activities that the school could implement. I ended up coordinating the university’s team of researchers, a team of mentors working with teachers (helping with professional development), and now a team of university students who are going to develop a course to teach learning skills – everyone is doing this on top of their daily work or studies but we are all excited to have the opportunity to learn and create together!
Some key observations about this school (bearing in mind this is based on just a few encounters):
It has a very enthusiastic and highly committed leadership team!
Everything starts with a vision and a set of core values – the whole team has to buy into these & that’s why I love how the school has made it a priority to engage everyone and to communicate the vision and values constantly. I can also see how important the preparatory team building was: the time we spent discussing the learner profile, values and the vision!
The school has about 50% native Russian and 50% native Estonian speakers. There are both challenges and opportunities this brings to teaching as well as social cohesion.
The school is very outward-looking and hoping to engage with local community and businesses; some of their focus areas entrepreneurship, design and East-West cultural and economic ties.
It tries to implement a more ‘university-style’ system with more freedom and autonomy given to students than in a regular grammar school, classes are 75 minutes long, many courses are taught in concentration/ more intensively over a shorter period of time, rather than every subject being spread across 3 years; teachers are encouraged to integrate their subjects and work collaboratively and creatively, to think critically about what and why they are teaching, the learner is at the centre of every activity etc.
I love their interest-based tutor group system – I see this as a space where the real learning and socialisation takes place.
It seems that the ideas the leadership tries to implement and the wider context of the school development bring along some very unique challenges which we will properly reflect on at a later date as it just requires time to see what works or doesn’t work, and why.
In August the school organised a camp that was open to all new students. I haven’t heard of many other schools doing this! It was a lot of fun and a great way for everyone to get to know one another in a non-formal, non-academic setting, although there was some ‘academics’ involved when the teachers introduced their subject at a fair-type event one day… Their task was to “sell” their classes to students by making them as interesting and engaging as possible. The maths teacher managed to engage students for more than a few hours after the event had finished!
One of the interest-based tutor group meetings. I visited two groups and loved hearing and seeing what was going on. The tutor groups provide a really unique way of relating between students and teachers – it is a space for reflection, feedback, new ideas, organising events and just being you… The ‘interest’ in a certain subject or topic is what unites the students, not age, what courses they take or anything else.
T-shirts with a school slogan – Future’s Architect. An example of how you can communicate the school’s vision and values. I heard the teachers and school leaders referring to the common values and school’s vision on a number of times when communicating with students and solving any ‘behavioural’ issues.
As it has become a tradition, here comes a new post more than half a year after the last one was published. The conclusion: I’m a terrible blogger. But I nevertheless value this space and am once again excited to share some things long overdue.
One of the reasons I have not written much is because I am working now at the Centre for Innovation in Education (CIE) at Tallinn University, which I happened to write about some time ago. Working at CIE has given me a chance to get to know more about all things related to education in Estonia – something I was afraid I will miss out on if I lived abroad.
CIE in Tallinn, alongside a similar but smaller centre in Tartu, was called into existence to help implement the Estonian government’s new educational strategy, which I’ve referred to a number of times in this blog. The CIE is engaged in rethinking teacher training practice, offering additional training to in-service teachers and school leaders, participating in school development projects, engaging with various partners on developing new teaching & learning methods, and overall helping everyone grasp and implement “the new educational paradigm” a little better. It’s not a straightforward task – it requires creativity, experimentation, failed attempts, opposition and criticism, enthusiasm and faith!
What I’ve noticed is that most people are interested in improving our educational systems and practices, many see the need, but the imperative question of how always seems to get in the way. So I find myself reflecting a lot on how systems work, how different organisations/ actors on the educational landscape play a different role, how people understand change, frame problems and opportunities, how and why people cooperate or don’t cooperate too well etc. The most fascinating part is that I am not an outside observer anymore, but very much “in the game”, trying figure out my activities, my relationships with these actors, my role – the small part I could play.
The most amazing thing about all these developments over the past 9 months is that the place I work allows me to pursue the dreams and projects I’ve always wanted to pursue. It’s been like puzzle pieces coming together on so many levels. I wanted to work more with schools, to gain a better understanding of the educational developments in this country (and elsewhere), to better understand how change and reform happen and what real tangible steps contribute to this… And my ‘big agenda’ of better connecting socio-economic development and innovation with learning design/formal education has become an even more concrete project with multiple partners from several countries. Looking back – all my contacts and experiences, including the ‘failed attempts’ from previous years are in use! To top it all off, I just started my Masters degree in comparative and international education (globalisation and educational change) at Lehigh U. and I can already see how much value the opportunity to read and reflect, learn about theory and practice behind educational change, and connect with other students adds to the practical work I do.
Finally, as I am writing this I cannot but mention that I checked the statistics for this blog today and discovered it has hits from all over the world – Brazil, Israel, Malaysia, Chile, Turkey, United States, South Africa, Tunisia, Romania, Spain, Italy, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Tanzania, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Armenia, Peru, Switzerland etc. Fascinating! Although, I feel a bit bad as I really haven’t written much quality content here and the site is still severely underdeveloped! I hope you guys are not too disappointed! ❤
Here I am, visiting a cool school in Tartu, Estonia, with my team. The bench I’m sitting on is quite a work of art!
It has been a while! After my life took a sudden turn and I decided to not move to the Middle East, I found myself back in my home country without a specific plan of what needed to happen next. But for the past almost 3 months I’ve been incredibly blessed, and busy. Blessed to be working together with some of the most inspiring people in the field of education, starting my research and given an opportunity to develop learning programmes that I could potentially implement from the start of next year. I’m not going to talk about the pressure that’s putting me under but currently the excitement (and most likely sheer craziness and naiveté) is keeping me going. I want to try it out. What have I got to lose?
I was lucky to be directed to take a course on education for sustainable development (ESD) run by Tallinn University and a global education course run by an NGO called Mondo. To top it all off – I have found an incredibly passionate group of people who started off an initiative called Loovharidus (‘creative education’ in English), been attending a few seminars and conferences, and found that the ground has been prepared in Estonia for what I have longed to see happen for a while – a change of culture in education and collaborative practice.
There are many examples to be mentioned, but I just want to say that all these developments have provided a ray of hope that things are really moving forward, for the better. I can sense the excitement in people I’ve come across, a level of empowerement amidst the frustration. To quote a participant from a recent event: “I’m so excited, I have not attended such a great ‘training’ event in a while. Only by being here I can see change happening in people and things moving forward. For the first time I’m really hopeful.”
Now, there would be so much to say about each initiative I mentioned. Initially I was hoping to blog more frequently and in depth so I am very much struggling to decide on what to prioritise and cover in this post. But I believe that one of the absolute key elements that underlies all others is collaboration and collaborative learning.
Collaboration/cooperation – the key to success!?
This has also been one of the key topics for the Loovharidus group and to quote from the national educational strategy, section 1.4: “Cooperation in all its diverse forms is the key to success in the education system: it is very important to have cooperation with teachers and educational institutions, the school and parents, but also between the school and the local government and the local private sector. Integrating extracurricular education with formal education and teaching outside of the school environment (in companies, youth centres, nature and environment centres, museums, libraries, and other cultural institutions) enriches the learning process.” But what it is about collaboration? Why is it so important?
Well, for starters, we might argue that collaboration is the very essence of being human. We are born into a relationship with ourselves and others. In order to have a successful and fulfilling life, we need to work together, and the quality of that most likely determines whether you reach the expectations and goals you have set, or even meet your basic needs. From a strategic geopolitical point of view we need “to be proactive and creative, so that we can cope in today’s rapidly changing world,” as the strategy states in its opening paragraph. Another element of cooperation is effective conflict resolution, which is also a topic we touched on at the latest Loovharidus seminar.
However, as it has occurred in several discussions with educators from preschool level up to academics and parents, effective collaboration (and conflict resolution) is something that is often lacking in schools. Albeit, one must admit there are some absolutely fantastic initatives happening in this area and the goal of the Loovharidus group is to share the ‘good practice’ and help those brave ones who are willing to put in the effort to create a better culture of collaboration through some experimentation and, you guessed right – collaboration. Collaboration across ALL levels of the system – students, teachers, leadership, community, government and so on.
I’d hereby like to briefly summarize the case studies from the latest Loovharidus seminar in Tallinn on 29th Nov 2014.
1. “Collaboration in school – deep knowledge of self (self awareness) and others” by Ilona Must, principal of Pärnu Vabakool (the only free school in the Baltics)
Like other free schools as well as most Waldorf schools, Pärnu Vabakool is owned by parents. It is heavily influenced by the philosophy of active learning and Gaia education, making collaboration central to its activities.
The school implements various strategies to reach the desired goals of preparing the students to meet 21st Century challenges, and to be a happy and engaging school for everyone.
COMMON VISION, COLLECTIVE GOVERNANCE – everyone matters
At the core of effective collaboration, according to Ms. Must, is collective governance, common vision and values, shared challenges, experiences and priorities set for each year.
LEARNING BY DOING
When it comes to the learning and teaching methodologies, as well as the school atmosphere, their philosophy is ‘learning by doing’ and they are very excited to be working with the Danes on introducing enhanced cooperative learning (CL) methods in their school this year.
SOME OF THE MORE INTERESTING EXAMPLES
The curriculum plans (õppekava – eesti k.) are presented to children in the “I-tense” and in a way a child would easily understand;
The day starts with a large gathering of all students, singing and sharing news;
Events and activities where the entire school is involved, e.g. planting trees;
International projects – study trips abroad etc. (they have a very good fundraising officer!)
Weekly newsletter for parents;
Regular meetings with all teachers and leadership;
Project-based learning; project days (- they have developed project-based learning materials, I saw one – it was GREAT!)
The school fees are currently 54 eur a month, and the shcool receives additional support from the local government and the state who pay teachers’ salaries. This is a school I’m very much hoping to visit soon to learn more about all their activities and feel the atmosphere!
2. Tartu community schools initiative “TULUKE” / Tartu Kogukonnakoolide algatus by Kristel Ress
Another project for which the idea came from parents. The aims of the project are to enhance communication within and between the schools and the parents, to create a trusting relationship, an exciting and varied learning environment that is tied more tightly to real life, and all of this resulting in happier children and parents.
The programme has just started, and perhaps not surpiringly for Estonia, the preferred method to bring people together to talk, think and come up with solutions to problems were “Mõttetalgud”. In other words, an open space for discussion/communication. There would be a lot to say about methodology and I have limited information on what their approach was but I love the fact that they are also using video/media!
Check this out:
The bottom line is – people need to come together and collaborate in order to solve issues and reach the desired outcomes. This is one of these exciting initiatives, initially between 4 schools but I am sure very soon involving many other, that has the potential to kick-start something bigger, so my hope is that the creativity and goodwill to try out various ideas and keep engaging people will keep flowing.
3. “Collaboration and creativity in Tallinn Meelespea Kindergarten” by Kristina Märks
This presentation was perhaps the second biggest surprise for me during the day and I have only the positive to say about what this kindergarten (!) is doing.
4. “The key to success is within us” by Pert Lomp (a parent) and Maarja Kurgpõld (class teacher) from Peetri Kool
A wonderful example of a school collaborating with parents and developing a new programme and approach to teaching and learning. Their flagship project is called “Tegija minu sees” (The leader in me).
5. “It’s exciting together” by two Estonian and Literature teachers from Rapla Ühisgümnaasium
Another surprise! Two subject teachers who have took the matters of collaborative learning into their own hands and are leading the way in their school.
This blog will be continued soon and I will hopefully elaborate on the above-mentioned examples. I was just so excited to get something up and start the reflective process. =) – how can I not put a smiley here?
While in Estonia this February I was positively surprised to find how much is already happening there in the field of innovation in education. I will write more about these findings soon but would like to first publish an interview I was honoured to do with Klemen Slabina from Tallinn University’s ‘Centre for Innovation in Education’(CIE) team. Klemen is a Slovenian national, trained as a sociology, philosophy and civics high school teacher, with international teaching experience. He is currently doing a PhD at Tallinn University and has been working for CIE for the last 2,5 years.
Images courtesy of CIE
Tell me a bit about the Centre for Innovation in Education at Tallinn University (CIE at TU). Is it unique in Europe? What do you hope to achieve?
There was a need to develop an innovative learning environment for teacher training and education at TU. Today, our learning environment responds well to the habits of students considering the evolving digital learning culture and challenges the traditional teaching and learning methods. Equally important, our centre emerged out of a need to research and critically assesses the adopted teaching/learning methods and teachers’ social skills and to develop our competences in student-centred learning, one-to-one computing and hands-on approaches in teacher education studies. At CIE we are essentially challenging the settled educators’ mind-set, developing new approaches to learning and teaching.
Ultimately, CIE aims above academic excellence by ensuring that teachers and students foster compassion and reflection, and grow as responsible persons, who effect positive change in the face of 21st century challenges.
What is educational innovation and why is it needed?
Generally, educational innovation stands for introduction of new methods in teaching/learning (open learning environments, digital environments), effective classroom designs (flipped classroom, hands-on laboratories and workshops), redefined teachers’ and students’ roles in learning process. Educational innovation aims to raise the quality of learning experience and therefore enhances students’ emotional, intellectual and practical abilities. The need for educational innovation lies in the development of society, which we can trace through for example the change in students’ communication habits.
Shortly, and not non-problematically, educational innovation is locally contextualized, purposeful, need-based designed institutional action, which has structural consequences to the benefit of school culture, teaching and students’ development.
For example, a maths teacher, who uses a ‘smart board’ is not necessary an indication of educational innovation, if his colleagues and himself do not understand why a ‘smart board’ is needed, and if the usage of ICT tools at this school generally refers to button-play only. Crucially, to call something an educational innovation, we need to know not only who is involved and how s/he does it, but more importantly we need to understand why such action and not any other and we need to have a solid picture of where the particular action leads.
What does “student-centred” mean?
The student-centred approach in the organization of learning environments and teaching practice focuses on recognizing the student as an active agent in the process of knowledge creation, both in a particular lesson as well as in her/his lifelong learning process. In such a process students learn through constant practical engagement, are active in problem resolving, able to critically reflect on their own and other students’ actions, and grow as persons within the learned content.
The teacher in such a scenario usually takes on a role of a mentor, supervisor, and facilitator of learning, being aware that learning is not limited to or fully dependent on her/his classroom. Through this process, students and teachers develop a common responsibility towards the content of learning.
In the spirit of creating a discussion, I wonder how you would comment on Liz Coleman’s statement that “public interest has disappeared entirely from the academy.” Do you agree?
While Coleman’s statement might describe well the conditions in educational systems, which follow the “Curriculum Tradition”, the need-based foundation of CIE indicates a different take on the subject in Estonia. CIE was established based on needs as they were and are identified in cooperation between Tallinn University and local school leaders and teachers. So one might argue it is a very “public” engagement with academia from the beginning. There was a need for research and development of the new approaches to learning, especially considering the digital turn in society and consequently in education, establishing compatibility of lifelong learning with the real needs of the labour market.
We are facing some huge challenges when it comes to climate change, economic stability, employment and so forth. What is the role of education in all of this, if at all?
The role of educational system in facing contemporary societal challenges is crucial, because every educational system is (or: would be good if it was) a reflection of societal needs in a particular moment of social development. Hence, all that occurs in society has an effect on education.
On the other hand, the generations that learn today, are going to design the future for us, and here lies the importance of every educational system: to be reflexively open for all new that everyday life brings about, and yet not become ignorant of the paths the local society has walked already. Additionally, every educational system needs to see outside of itself and critically assess the scale of consequences that occur when introducing a practice form abroad to the established educational framework.
Thank you so much for the interview, Klemen!
You can read more about the centre and their facinating laboratories here:
Part 2 of this series is long due, so I will contnue with the humble attempt to map some great initiatives. For a while I have been wanting to write about Tallinna Linnavolikogu Simulatsioon (Tallinn City Council Simulation).
These kinds of projects (often in the format of a conference, a simulation or a symposium) are usually run in collaboration with youth councils and include other youth organisations and stakeholders. This highlights the importance of a well-functioning youth work sector and involvement of the youth in governance processes. In some ways it is part of the European Union’s effort to create (structured) dialogue with the youth. http://europa.eu/youth/structured-dialogue_en
I would like to particularly emphasise the work of MTÜ Tegusad Eesti Noored (TEN). Their mission is to organise simulations like this, e.g. The European Parliament Simulation and State Parliament Simulalation in Estonia, and help young people understand and engage in democratic governance processes. They also help the youth with making their project-based ideas happen.
Tallinn City Council Simulation got so much of my attention because a couple of my friends on facebook were involved in organising it and I was very impressed by how much the whole process was owned by the young people/students. They did an amazing social media campaign on facebook, and posted some youtube videos, such as this, to engage participants (or any youth who got their attention) with the topic of ‘governance’.
The reason why this is so significant is because it shows learner autonomy, builds a sense of citizenship or being part of the wider society and community, builds several very important skills, like team-work, and gives students the VERY much needed practical experience / application of theory. They most certainly learned more by doing that than sitting in a civics lesson.
No less imporant were the actual topics discussed as part of the simulation sessions (I will paraphrase but try to keep as close to original wording as possible):
EDUCATION – In order to raise the competence of the youth it is important to combine formal and non-formal education. How to apply non-formal learning in support of formal education? (Comment: What a great and RIGHT question to ask! I wonder what the outcomes were…-Maarja)
PARTICIPATION – A large number of youth remain passive in civil society and indifferent to their role as ‘citizens’. How to motivate the youth to participate actively in their community and society at large, as well as involve them in decision-making?
SPORT & HEALTH – How to motivate the youth to practice sports instead of self-harming activities (e.g. drinking)? What measures could Tallinn take to popularize healthy past-time activities?
TRANSPORT – How to organise the traffic and transportation system in the city in accordance with the real needs of its inhabitants and as a one whole system taking into account different modes of transportation?
CULTURE – The compulsory educational programme does not support enough young people’s participation in the cultural and artistic activities. How can culture and arts be made more attractive?
URBAN SPACE – The old Tallinn “city hall” and its surroundings remain empty and derelict. Fresh and innovative ideas are needed to developed the cityscape. How could young people contribute to finding new purposes for old buildings or forming ideas for a well-functioning urban space? There was a press release about this (Source: http://simulatsioon2014.wordpress.com/komisjonid-ja-teemad/)
For me the most fascinating part of events like this is that they do exactly what I have been longing to see – combine educational and learning processes directly with governance and societal development. However, the question of how much it is actually a part of an intentional learning or curriculum design remains outstanding. In addition, who are promoting the event? Are teachers involved? What kind of students participate and can we draw any ‘demographic’ conclusions based on that? What opportunities are there for students from suburban areas or smaller cities to participate in events like this? Have these events received any attention in the national educational strategy as a potential “tool”?
They also bear some resemblance with social labs, and in fact could become much more then “talking shops” or “learning spaces”. The organisers state that the ideas developed during the simulation have a potential to be taken forward and may receive a budget and a supporting team – Where does the budget come from? Who are the supporting team? How many and what kind of ideas were taken forward? How much are the actual local government representatives or local community involved?
Not surprisingly, I am also drawing some parallels to PeaceJam. I had a chance to briefly introduce it in Tallinn in 2011 on a trip with iCoCo but it has never been organised in Estonia. I wonder what lessons can we draw from the simulation type events with events like PJ and their follow-up methods.
Another great initiative to draw parallals to is the UK’s National Citizen Service (NCS). That initiative is in many ways like a “summer camp”, so more comprehensive and has more varied elements. They engage abour 18 000 15-17 year olds in a year, and have about 2500 staff members. Here is a very good overview: http://www.ncsyes.co.uk/about
I am keen to talk to the organisers and find out more!
Update: I have just found out that the simulations have been part of a larger EU funded project Iuventus Revaliensis (for which there is no other information online), supported by Euroopa Noored/ European citizenship education programme, promoting youth exchnages, volunteer programmes and the like, they also facilitate Erasmus+ calls for applications.
Here is a great video of debate from Tallinna Noortevolikogu – youth in conversation with some politicians.
I have been in Estonia for almost 2 weeks now. Time has flown! But that aside, I have been trying to do a bit of mapping of initiatives that in my opinion connect education to the wider society and enhance the quality and impact of learning. The list below is not exhaustive.
Tagasi Kooli (Back to School)
is a civil society initiative with the objective of strengthening the cooperation between Estonian schools and the rest of the society by inviting the members of public to give a guest lecture/class during the “Tagasi kooli” week, well actually it happens all year round now. The guest teacher can be anyone who wishes to share interesting or practical knowledge or life experience with the younger generation.
The programme is facilitated by an online information system that matches the preferences of the class teachers and visiting “teachers” when it comes to the topic of the lesson. Here is an example of a lesson about pensions sponsored by Swedbank: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkzZe7Dh314
On the website the Estonian President, Mr. Toomas Hendrik Ilves is quoted:
“There are no concerns in education that wouldn’t be the ones of our own. All our co-citizens could have a role in the development and facilitation of our students. On one hand our schools need a well-functioning network and good connection with the rest of the society. On the other hand all our people need a clear understanding how today’s Estonian school is faring and how they can support our education.”
The initiative was founded by another programme worth mentioning – Noored Kooli (Youth to School) Foundation.
The programme is inspired by earlier Teach for America (USA) and Teach First (UK), which aim to motivate and support young professionals and talented university graduates become teachers and advocates for change in society, especially in education, by equipping them with both pedagocical and leadership skills. But the real reason behind this “teacher and leadership programme” is even more significant than improving teacher education and bringing talent into the education profession – it lies in the fact that poorer children generally do much worse in school and end up having a lower quality of life and future prospects than their better-off peers. This in turn fuels more inequality in society. TeachFirst-type programmes try to close the attainment gap by inspiring a new generation of teachers who are whole-heartedly dedicated to changing the “life story” of each child.
The participants do not necessarily stay in school or teaching, although many do and continue to take on even a leadership role as a school principal or programme leader. You can read an article about Noored Kooli here (in Estonian this time.)
(Just as a side note – it is so important that the participants understand what they do has meaning. In fact, this is also one of the main motivating factors for young students. The meaning of whatever happens in classroom should be explained and discussed, and it usually develops when we make “connections” with our wider worldview, identity. I remember far too many times hearing the question: “Teacher, WHY do we have to do this?” It often seemed just for the sake of doing it. No critical thought, no questions, although some teachers did try and give an explanation such as “to develop your thinking”.)
I am excited to be visiting Estonia this February. There is a lot I have been meaning to write about for a long time, so I hope the time spent there will give me a chance to reflect and do some research. I am going to visit some start-up incubators and hopefully the recently opened Mektory i-lab at Tallinn Univeristy of Technology. I have been thinking about setting up an international action research project for some time – the Bradford-Leeds city region could be potential partner. There are already some links, most surprising perhaps was to find out one of our professors works with TUT and Ukraine on i-labs and we are facilitating an i-labs sesson for a group next week. I guess there is a long way to go though. For now, I am just curious and want to learn as much as I can. Meet people. Listen. Share ideas.
This is going to be a short post. I just wanted to record an article I read a couple of months ago about a school called Mäetaguse. The article, published in the teachers’ paper called Õpetajate Leht, was like music to my years.
The school seems to be doing so many things right from paying higher wages to teachers to enabling and encouraging some hardcore innovation in learning and teaching. Perhaps most notable is the huge emphasis on connecting disciplines to allow the development of a holistic worldview and more creativity. The teachers are happy, the children and parents are happy.
Of course, there is money involved but I believe this is exactly the kind of investment that pays off in the long term. Well done!
What is Estonia doing to promote entrepreneurship through education?
I was recently introduced to a project called the Enterprising School. It seems it is (or has been) a collaborative project between Estonia, Finland, Latvia and Sweden. However, it is unlcear as to whether it is still ongoing as the Swedish site claims the programme has finished, and there is not much activity on the website. I am definitely interested in finding out more.
As far as I know one of the main promoters of enterprise education in Estonia is the Junior Achievement Foundation, which is actually a global organisation promoting enterprise skills, workforce readiness, and financial literacy among young people. You can read about their global reach more by following this link https://www.jaworldwide.org/ja-works/Pages/Worldwide-Initiatives.aspx As I understand it, in Estonia the students are introduced to the opportunity mainly by their economics teachers (if the school has this subject as an elective), the students then are given the opportunity (so it is not compulsory) to create and register their enterprises, participate in competitions and “fairs” where they have a chance to showcase their work – a popular event the media likes to talk about.
I remember some of my classmates setting up a student enterprise (õpilasfirma) as part of our semester-long economics class (I don’t think I understood the programme at the time.) Business and economics seemed really daunting to me, something boring and something I never connected with opportunity to do what I love. I have a completely different view of enterprise now and I think there are real opportunities to expand and improve the “enterprise education” in Estonia. But on the other hand, I have been away for a while and not connected to schools, so maybe there is more happening? Perhaps there are great initiatives which I don’t know about?
I suppose teaching children to code (which I never did), taking them to various subject-specific competitions or providing overall a great education/knowledge based is one very important component of being able to be a successful entrepreneur in the future.
Sidenote: Since living in England I have become more familiar with some programmes here. An example of a collaborative project to support enterprise and employment in Bradford, UK, is the E3 Bradford. It would be interesting to compare the approaches of the 2 organisations – JA and E3 – but I will do this another time.
Coming back to the subject of the enterprising school strategy in Estonia, there is really just one other strategic source I could think of for any information and insight on the matter, and that is the Eesti Koostöö Kogu (EKK). The EKK has for several years now facilitated the debate around and drafting the Estonian Life Long Learning Strategy. This is perhaps the most comprehensive and wide-reaching strategic document concerning the future of education in Estonia.
I quote the introductory paragraph: “Developing life-long learning is one of the main political and social challenges of Estonia, which would support the rise in quality of life and the development of the economy. Estonia has a small population but has set high goals in terms of quality of life and good economy. Therefore it is necessary for the citizens to be entrepreneurial and have modern knowledge and skills. It is also essential to create access to learning possibilities both in the formal and informal education systems. The main goal of the education system is to help people socialize, find an area of work which corresponds to their interests and abilities, and prepare them for their roles in work, public life and family.” (Source: http://www.kogu.ee/about-the-organization/education-strategy/, emphasis added)
I am glad to read that they have emphasised the importance of developing a coherent strategy that takes into account the the whole context of learning, beyond formal education. But what does that mean in practice? And what does it mean in terms of enterprise education?
The proposal of the strategy emphasises the importance of knowledge and innovation-based economy, that has been mentioned in various other strategies in the past, including the Säästev Eesti 21. I am also glad mention is made of connections to regional development and sustainability, referring again to Säästev Eesti 21, but I would need to come back to this very important aspect and how it might relate to enterprise another time. One of the key things I am picking up from the report at the moment is this (in Estonian this time ):
“Vaatamata mitmetele varasematele katsetustele (Õpi-Eesti jõudis Riigikogu suurde saali 2001. aastal) pole aga siiani suudetud kokku leppida strateegias, mis määratleks Eesti hariduse arengu kõige tähtsamad, valdkonnaülesed (haridusastmete ja –liikide ülesed) prioriteedid ja hõlmaks kogu elukestva õppe süsteemi tervikuna, kirjeldaks kitsaskohti, mis takistavad saavutamast kõige olulisemaid eesmärke ja selgitaks, kuidas vastata väljakutsetele, mis meie ees lähiajal seisavad. Strateegia koostamine on vajalik haridusvaldkonna sidustatud juhtimiseks ning 2014 – 2020. a EL tõukefondide otstarbekaks planeerimiseks ja kasutamiseks.”
In sum, it says that irrespective of the efforts, a comprehensive strategy has not been agreed. And the problem arising from that is lack of direction to organise any activities.
The opportunity to come up with creative and concrete solutions is there, but agreement on key priorities and understaning of the challenges and linking these with Estonia’s strategic vision and values is so important – something the government and civil society both need to take ownership and responsibility for. Having said that, I think we desperately need to talk about our vision and values and an enterprising mindset should be one of these.
Education plays a very important part in shaping the society and in particular the economy.
Here is a great video by McKinsey and Partners that makes the claim we need to look at education as part of a system. Education and training need to be relevant, theory needs to be better matched with practice. It advocates for more active practice-based learning and collaboration between different societal actors, industry and education. However, we must not forget that only responding to the industry is not the solution – education has a moral responsibility to question and innovate, to solve the great challenges of our century, advocate for sustainable responsible development.