Following the declaration of the state of emergency to prevent the spread of COVID-19, schools in Estonia switched to the remote-learning system on 16 March, which increased the number of users of e-learning platforms by ten folds.
Because Estonia is a well-advanced country as far as the use of technology is concerned, the state was prepared for implementing remote learning promptly. Heli Aru-Chabilan, the head of the Information Technology Foundation for Education (HITSA), said that counselling had been provided to schools, and preparations for digital learning had been going on for years, but the year 2020 is of breakthrough importance. “The current crisis has great significance as a litmus test for the Estonian education system, showing how and in which direction our e-learning systems need to be developed so that they are as convenient as possible for teachers, students and parents who help their children study at home.”
What ensured the start of remote learning would be a success was that specialists in technology for education held webinars to advise teachers and parents on helping children who would be learning remotely. During the week, the webinars got a total of nearly 50,000 views, which is dozens of times more than usual in our country with the population of 1.328 million.
Aru-Chabilan added that the services for digital remote learning have displayed isolated signs of overloading, but resources are being increased or rerouted depending on the demand, and there have been no failures in the services provided by HITSA. “The new situation forces everyone to adapt, including those with previous experience of e-learning and those for whom this challenge is a new opportunity. Our strategy was that no school or teacher would be forced to learn how to use completely new technologies in the state of emergency. Instead, we supported the use of the platforms which the schools had already had in place.”
Solutions to have facilitated the transition to digital e-learning:
- Estonia’s substantial technological background. The government has substantially invested into the development of schools’ local internet connections, purchasing devices for teachers, supporting the creation of digital learning materials and advancement of teachers’ digital skills. Those Investments into infrastructure and ecosystem lied ground for quick switch into the remote learning model during the first days of crises.
- The country has for decades invested into the advancement of teachers’ networks for sharing good practices among practitioners. In the first week of remote learning, HITSA collaborated with education technologists and counsellors to hold five webinars meant for parents, teachers and school leaders. The webinar "How to support children’s remote learning", was meant for parents and organised in collaboration with the Estonian Association of Specialists in Technology for Education, Innove and private sector companies, had the largest number of viewers. The event was the online conference with the most participants in the country’s history.*
- A great number of Estonian schools had already joined the freeware environment Moodle meant for creating e-learning courses. Within the first week of remote learning, the number of users increased further, and schools can be guided through the process of joining the system, which in such case takes only a couple of hours.
- The demand for the e-learning courses teaching how to use various e-learning environments, for example, Moodle, Google Classroom or Microsoft Teams, has soared.
- The number of users has increased exponentially for other environments for remote learning such as Moodle and Google Classroom, for instance, but also for the national electronic homework diaries eSchool (eKool) and Stuudium, the digital learning materials portal E-Schoolbag, the platform of electronic materials Opiq, the authentication solution HarID for convenient access to e-services in education, the BigBlueButton web conferencing system to be used for webinars with Moodle, etc.
- Specialists in technology for education have been providing ongoing support to teachers, parents and principals through the information line opened by HITSA and the Facebook groups created especially for supporting technology-based remote learning.
- As Russian is the mother tongue of a third of the population, webinars and supporting materials had also been prepared in Russian. The Facebook group created for supporting remote e-learning has by now been joined by teachers from Moscow and Saint Petersburg schools in addition to teachers from Estonia.
- In addition, the number of start-ups per total population in Estonia is larger than everywhere else. Estonian edtech start-ups are offering their e-learning solutions free of charge to other states in the crisis situation: https://education-nation.99math.com/
Heli Aru-Chabilan, the chair of the board of HITSA,
also made an appeal to other countries for sharing their remote e-learning
success stories and experience: “A lot has been accomplished, but the feedback
shows there is a lot more to be done for e-learning to become as smooth as
possible. We have already presented our solutions in a number of countries, and
we are open to international cooperation for smooth implementation of technology-based
* Source: www.ecb.ee
The Information Technology Foundation for Education (HITSA) is a foundation established by the Ministry of Education and Research, a number of universities and IT companies for supporting the smart use of technology skills in learning.
HITSA communication manager