circular estonia

innovation in education and governance

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Collaborative Learning – the Estonian Way

Hello again!

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.


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.


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.


  • 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?

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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.

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Mektory, Garage48, Negavatt and more!

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.