In the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic put students, teachers and parents to test; Estonian schools managed to adapt to new situations quickly and therefore handled the crisis well; although there is no one right formula for a successful distance learning programme, there is still a lot to learn from an Estonian example.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic caught us by surprise, Estonian schools were able to switch to online teaching methods quickly, as digital competence and setting up IT-infrastructure has been a national priority for many years already. For instance, in 1997, a project called Tiigrihüpe (the Tiger Leap) was launched, to provide computers, internet access and relevant training for schools. Besides that, teachers’ training has been consistent.
According to Heli Aru-Chabilan, the director for internationalisation at Estonian Education and Youth Authority, the situation in the spring showed that long-lasting focus on integrating technology into learning has paid off. Already before the pandemic, most of the Estonian schools were daily using many digital study materials (for example, a platform of digital books, called Opiq) and electronic school management systems (eKool).
“Estonian teachers have high levels of digital competence,” Urmo Uiboleht, the chairman of the board of Tartu Private School, said, adding this was one of the main reasons why the Estonian educational system handled the coronavirus crisis that well. However, the level of digital competence is not something you can conveniently learn long-distance during the crisis. These skills need to be consistently improved, both Aru-Chabilan and Uiboleht emphasised.