Digital schools and tech Universities: Estonia is growing its e-generation already from the cradle
E-school’s, free universities, incubators for startups in the universities. We went to Tallinn to see how to study in the most digital country in the world.
Estonia is growing its e-generation. The most digital country in the world, with "paperless" public administration systems, where everything from paying taxes to voting is done online.
"The first move to digitize Estonia was obviously bringing Internet everywhere”, says Andres Kütt, the engineer who heads the digital infrastructure built for the project "e-Estonia", that is the program set up to transform the whole society to an e-society, a society where everything can be done through the web. And education is of course a very important part of the project.
Have they succeeded in improving the schooling system through the digitalization of the society?
It seems so: according to estimates published by 'OECD in mid-May 2015, Estonia is in seventh place in the world for academic achievement in math and science (76 countries under analysis). Asian countries hold the top positions, Finland is the sixth position, and Estonia is in the second place in Europe. Italy is at the 28th place. But how have they done it?
Let's start from the beginning. “e-kool” (e-school) system is a platform that is now used almost in every school in Estonia. It connects students, teachers and parents. The aim is to actively involve parents in to the child’s learning process and distribute information easily. They use no paper report cards, only the online systems. All handouts and topics of the lectures are available online, as well as information about absences and homework. The e-school is now used by 85% of the schools in the country, which means 95% of students in each grade. At the end of high school, students must take the state exams, where the results are published online or sent to the students’ phones via messages. If the student wishes to continue studies at a university, they can use this online platform to submit applications, which leaves the usage of papers unnecessary.
The university is free
"More than 80% of our students do not have to pay any fee. The courses are free, explains Mari Laikre, International Relations Officer of Tallinn University of Technology, as we walk through the campus of the university. I'm not sure I understand, so I ask again: "Yes, that's right, almost all studying is free. Not only that, there are also free courses for foreign students” she explains. About 13 000 students study in this campus, from which 1500 are from other nations. Its pretty exciting that this is the largest international community in Estonia.
Before we continue at the campus, Mari shows me the walkways suspended glass that connects one building to another campus, "Because in the winter we have snow and temperatures below zero, it is best to walk indoors" notes Mari. At the Tallinn University of Technology you can take courses (in Estonian and English) in the IT field that are hardly found in any university in the world, for example, in the specialization of E-Governance Services & Technologies. The campus is modern and well integrated to nature in true Nordic style: interactive maps on large colored monitors, tall windows to ensure as much light as possible, as every ray of light is important in winter times and so on.
Mektory, where startups are born (and the neighbor is Skype)
In addition to students, the Tallinn University of Technology accommodates 150 high-tech companies. One such company is Skype, which was developed in these rooms, and now has its headquarters in a building attached to the campus.
To bring together students, scientists and entrepreneurs, Mektroy was born in the end of 2013, a centre for innovation and business. From the outside, it looks like a huge yellow retangle which you can see from a far distance, even on a cloudy day. It has a logo of a face of the tiger. “Perhaps it is to symbolize the great leap that Estonia has achieved in its digital revolution”, said Mari. It is a place where students can bring their ideas to life with the help of mentors and companies.
As you enter the building, a screen greets you with all the information about the programmes and activities happening on that day.
Then there are the corridors leading to all of the laboratories. "We wanted to do something that was actually useful to society. So we built this place, where students can get in touch with entrepreneurs. We have close partnership with 500 foreign universities. In Italy, for example, we have a partnership with the Polytechnic of Milan and the Politecnico di Torino "says Reijo Karu, director of international projects at the Tallinn University of Technology. The business model of Mektory is simple: each laboratory has a supporter among the many companies present at Mektory (Ericsson, Siemens, Samsung, to name a few). "Entrepreneurs get advertising through Mektory: it is becoming a strong brand recognized throughout Estonia.
Distributed over 4,500 square meters, on four floors, there are rooms for startups, different laboratories, where children carve wood with a special machine that prevents cuts and accidents, a polygon for testing robots, a space center that organizes astronomy courses and space technology to children. There is also a room under construction that will be reserved for Lego: its purpose is not in play, but rather to teach concepts or business models to kids, students and startups.
Article by: Carlotta Balena
Original source in Italian magazine “StartupItalia”