circular estonia

innovation in education and governance

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Tallinn University Centre for Innovation in Education

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.”[1] 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: (in Estonian) (in English)


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Mapping initiatives that connect education and the wider society – Part 2

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.

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:

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:

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.


Some great points raised. I am learning a lot.

Part 3 of the series will be coming soon.