Integration or Transformation?

A cross-national study of information and communication technology in school education


Appendix 6.8

6.8      Estonia background information

Figure 26: Europe – political: showing location of Estonia

(courtesy Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection)



Figure 27: Estonia, showing towns visited during the research 

(courtesy Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection)


Estonia is a Baltic state in Europe, just south of Finland. In 1989, during the chaos following the attempted murder of the Russian premier, Mikahel Gorbechov, the Estonian people conducted a singing revolution. At some points as many as one in three Estonians were singing across the country in protest at the Russian occupation. On 6th September 1991, full independence was declared.


Figure 28: Singing Grounds in Tartu, Estonia.


The population decline in Estonia was significant, resulting from increased uncertainty as the country moved from deterministic soviet communist policies to engagement with global competitive market economics. The country often experiences winters so cold that the sea freezes, allowing ice roads to the outlying islands to be constructed. Trade patterns with the Soviet east have rapidly declined, and new partnerships have been forged with western European countries. As part of the enlargement of the European Community, the PHARE[1] program allocates grants to aspirant nations (European Communities, 2000). Estonia has applied for membership of the European Union, and is being funded as an aspirant nation through the PHARE program to improve several aspects of its economy.


During the harmonisation of two economies, and many cultures, it is obvious that there will be agreement on many things, but not on all. For example, the Estonian perception of wolves was at variance with that of the European Community (EC)[2]. Yet PHARE-inspired social developments with information technology fitted well with the Estonian Information Policy (Estonian Informatics Centre, 1997). This established a need for projects in schools to make the younger generation familiar with and confident in the use of information technology, such as the “Tiger Leap” program. The original policy documents integrated information policy with other public policies, and showed how societal values might be shaped by the adoption of strategies of openness and geographic independence. By pointing out that an information society was not as bound to “place” as those preceding it, the policy aimed to establish a non-sectarian and location-independent way of looking at the situation of every citizen. The information policy was therefore considered to be a support for democracy in Estonia, and established a rationale for the development of an adequate information infrastructure. This author noted the high incidence of mobile phones whilst visiting the country, a telecommunications facility that had proven effective and easy to implement with 502,000 subscribers (one third of the population) in December 2001 according to Vasilyeva (2002). As the policy evolved, direction of the information policy was handed to the State Chancellery, which was given a coordinating role.


The multi-cultural background of Estonia was addressed by the information policy, which stressed the equal and open access citizens should have to government information. Languages of government had swept with invaders through Estonia throughout the twentieth century. In 1999 the phonebooks summarised contents in German, Russian and English as well as Estonian. While English was acquiring prominence as a supplemental language, for most people it was only a third language (after German or Swedish) learned in school, making access to much externally sourced software problematic for young people.  This multi-lingual situation persisted because of the incorporation of non-native Estonian speakers into the population, such as native Russian speakers who were principally responsible for operating shale oil electricity plants and mining operations predominantly around the area of Narva.


One of the impressive details of the Estonian experience with ICT in education has been its brevity. Following Estonia’s unilateral declaration of independence in 1991, the forestry-financed government adopted a wide range of strategies to aspire to membership of the European Union as quickly as possible. There were some significant achievements. “For example, it is remarkable to note that there are more Internet hosts in Estonia than in sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa)” (Mosco, 1998). A 1999 survey showed Estonia had 18 Internet hosts per 1000 head of population, compared to 148 for USA, and 49 for Australia (Department of Industry, Science and Resources, 2000, p. 23). This made Estonia 19th in the world on this measure. The country exemplified one extreme of the spectrum described by Hobbes in the Internet Survey (Zakon, 1999).


Teachers’ wages had not risen with the increase in prosperity and consequently it was almost impossible to recruit or train teachers. One program brought retired teachers back into schools to fill the gap between supply and demand. Therefore, it was extremely difficult to introduce changes in practices or curriculum, particularly since the latter was very much bound to an established model which allocated a certain percentage of teaching time to each conventional subject area.


As an indicator of the stresses upon the country, the net population was falling in 1999. Births in 1995-99 were below natural replacement, and emigration exceeded immigration. With the removal of state security from the communist regime, parents deferred child rearing until their personal economics became more secure. One of the teachers this researcher talked to admitted that Estonians were not very social; a little house in the country, away from neighbours, was a common ideal.


Figure 29: Estonian house in the country.



Several of the outcomes of the PHARE project related to the development of cross-curriculum frameworks for the use of computers in schools. However, the current funding provided through the Tiger Leap project made the ratio of students to computers only 28 to one in the best situation seen. The project director argued that with such small levels of equipment, it had been impossible to mount whole school programs, and therefore they were unable to pilot such frameworks.


6.8.1      Project Tiger Leap

Project Tiger Leap hit the headlines during the summer of 1999, when it arranged road-shows in several major towns. Setting up tens or even hundreds of computers in tented accommodation in town squares, the project brought ICT to the people, signing many up for e-mail accounts, and demonstrating the powers of the new technology. That year the Tiger Leap Roadshow was the winner of the Global Bangemann Challenge Grand Prix in the category "Equal Access to Networking" (City of Stockholm Economic Development Agency, 2001).


Figure 30: Tiger Leap Roadshow in action, 1999.

With a broad remit to raise awareness of ICT in the community, the project had specific aims to also assist educational institutions. One of the products of this project was a bilingual multi-media introduction to the vertebrates of Estonia, prepared in hyper-text format and distributed both via the world-wide-web and a limited edition CD-ROM.


Figure 31: Introduction to vertebrates of Estonia  Professional development within Project Tiger Leap

A prime mover in the domain of awareness-raising and teacher development has been Project Tiger Leap. This project was funded internally within Estonia, and its strategy spelled out in the policy papers produced by the project (Tiger Leap Project, 1999).   Between 1997 and 1999, policy implementation shifted from projects targeted upon areas of agreed need to one based upon submissions from teachers. One of the goals was to achieve a student:computer ratio of 20:1, and this was nearly achieved by the end of 1998 in 11 of the 18 Estonian counties, with an overall average of 28. Other infrastructure projects placed projectors into schools, enabled teachers to lease a computer for use at home, and established the web-based teaching materials MIKSIKE site. This was a joint winner of the Education section of the Stockholm Challenge in 2000. This was a transformative project, bringing about radical change in teaching practices. The project was described as follows:

The Miksike Learning Environment gives away more than 20,000 worksheets in HTML- called eWorksheets and offers a set of virtual teacher assistant (miksilitators) services, which are based on using these materials and other collaborative learning services.
                                            (City of Stockholm Economic Development Agency, 2000).

The MIKSIKE learning environment expanded in 2000 to include materials written in Estonian, Russian, Swedish and English. The materials were available on the Internet for free, and encompassed over 20,000 worksheets for school students in K-12, and homeschoolers. These eWorksheets supported advanced study in isolated schools as well as a wide range of the traditional curriculum. One of the worksheets is reproduced as an Appendix 7.6 (Miksike, 2000).


Internet connections were provided for rural schools, and a large amount of money was allocated to the purchase and evaluation of educational software. Training for teachers and school network administrators was also provided, and over 56 percent of all teachers had completed an introductory course by the end of 1998. (Tiger Leap Foundation, 1998).


Within the sphere of professional development, the country has adopted the European Computer Driving Licence as the desirable qualification (Computing, 1998). This was also offered in Australia as the International Computer Driving Licence, and comprised the following modules:

·      Basic concepts of information technology

·      Using the computer and managing files

·      Word Processing

·      Spreadsheets

·      Databases/Filing Systems

·      Presentation and Drawing

·      Information Network Services.


The first module is assessed using a theory test, while the remainder are assessed practically (Australian Computer Society, 1999).


Key applications for translation between languages were unfamiliar to the project leaders the author interviewed in November 1999. It is likely that some version of automatic translation software for filtering externally hosted web-pages may improve access to the Internet in Estonia.


6.8.2      Curriculum development

The official Estonian curriculum for primary and secondary schools listed 13 major objectives in 1999. The eleventh one of these required that “pupils can get and use information”. It was used by the schools visited by this writer to justify the inclusion of computers in their learning programs.  In the documentation supplied, the section describing the links between different subjects includes informatics and information technology as one of four such cross-curriculum areas, with legitimation important in a curriculum structure established during soviet occupation times. The organising principles appeared to revolve around the number of hours per week each subject was allocated, and what material should be covered in that time. Consequently, teachers have found it difficult to amend the curriculum in terms of content or time allocation to accommodate new initiatives such as ICT. Therefore, opportunities to do so have been taken in some less likely areas, such as Nature Studies, which had as a major study topic “the development of communication and study design skills”. 


There had been some success in the secondary curriculum area, where Informatics was established as an area of specialist study for pupils aged 15-18.


Table 19: Secondary school informatics curriculum in Estonia.

Valikkursused gumnaasiumile

Subjects for secondary schools



Universaalsed pohitoed. Tekstitootlus

Universal applications: word-processing

Arvuti kasutamine andmete haldamisel


Arvuti kasutamine tookeskkonna muutmiseks

The changing work environment

Informaatika lisateadmised

Other informatics topics


The main focus for curriculum development with respect to the use of computers in education appeared to primarily be the responsibility of the program (Phare-ISE, 2000). This strategic plan included a role for the evaluation of ICT integration techniques and for the determination of a future policy strategy. Members of the program said that the best they could do was make recommendations, and the Ministry of Education alone had the power to enact change. Although the program had been in operation for two years when the researcher visited in 1999, the fourth work program schedule envisaged that development of policy in this respect would still be ongoing in 2000 (Phare-ISE, 2000b).


6.8.3      The PHARE-ISE program


Figure 32: Logo of the PHARE-ISE program

The PHARE-ISE project contracted through tender in July 1999 for the supply of a schools software management system. This student database program was to be customised to Estonian language and conditions, and used to improve data flow between the Ministry of Education and schools.


One of the outputs of the PHARE-ISE program had been a sequence of three CD-ROMs. These had been very influential within the country, both to spread new techniques and information, but also as an awareness-raising exercise for the work the project was undertaking. Some of the material was in English, which enabled the researcher to assess the contents.


Table 20: Contents of PHARE-ISE CD-ROMs


Examples of content

Freeware, shareware, public domain and demonstration software

·        Linux

·        Logo

·        WordPad

·        Periodic Table etc.

Project products - curriculum software in Estonian Language

·        Molecular modelling

·        Geometry

·        Probability theory for 12th grade etc.

Project - products

·        Estonian spelling checker for Microsoft Word

·        StudyWorks etc.

Documentation - project program

·        for PHARE-ISE and Tiger Leap projects

·        Contact lists of schools

·        Details of sub-projects underway

·        Minutes of steering committee meetings.

Documentation - other

·        Estonian help files for Linux

·        Curriculum documentation

·        Syllabuses

·        Papers by academics and forward-looking teachers on the impact of ICT

·        Software reviews

·        Handbook of Estonian language


6.8.4      Summary

Estonia has focused upon development of the internet since independence, stimulated by the needs of a dispersed population in difficult terrain (especially in winter). Educational policies for ICT are highly aligned with national policies. Professional development has been provided so that 56 percent of teachers have ICT skills commensurate with the level of the international computer driving licence. The social rationale is an emphasis with ICT seen as offering services equitably to both rural and urban citizens.

6.8.5      Estonian Policy documentation – teacher ICT skills specifications

Requirements to the competence of educational technology of the comprehensive school teacher

Approved on 28. February, 2001 in the council of Informatics.


·                   The necessity to specify the teachers' standards of competence of ICT:


·                   The fast development of information and communication technology and its application in different fields of life influences our society, culture and most of all ‑ our working environment and communication. Banking, logistics, mass media and science are only a few examples of the areas that have done through huge changes after the computers and Internet have been started to use. It is natural that school has to move along with all these changes as the main aim of it is to prepare the next generation to live in the world that will be even more technological. The current state curriculum of comprehensive school assigns to give the students the ICT competence through the other subjects, through an integrative theme. So it is presumable that teachers are able to use up‑to‑date methods and equipment not worse than for example, secretaries or book keepers.


·                    The infotechnological development plan for the Estonian school, Tiger Leap Plus (Tiigrihupe Pluss), accepted by the Government of the Estonian Republic at the beginning of 2001, lays stress on teachers' infotechnological competence noting that as one of its priorities. It assumes an agreement about unitary demands on the competence. A lot of work has been done in the field of ICT professional standards, internationally acknowledged The International Computer Driving Licence (ICDL) certification system has been applied. At the same time it has become clear that ICDL will not be enough for teachers ‑ the standards of ICDL have been oriented to an average office worker, they are not sufficient and they are out of context. What we need is a wider (considering the context of teaching situation) and deeper (at least three different levels) standard. Due to the context of teaching situations this cannot be the standard of computer competence only, but rather of the competence of educational technology. Educational technology is an area of pedagogy the aim of which is to develop, apply and evaluate the systems, methods and means created to support the learning process. Also the first international standards that evaluate the teachers' ICT competence are not oriented on computer competence only (NETS for Teachers,


·                    The following is our vision about the standard of the teachers' competence of educational technology, the applicable output of which is updating the curriculum of teacher training and completing the requirements of teachers' qualification. In the requirements of teachers' qualification, the computer competence has been mentioned as one of the qualification criteria. In the informatics council they specified the essence of this competence through the following. The teacher who likes to raise or preserve his professional qualification


·                                                                                                                                                         understands the essence of ICT hard‑ and software systems and is able to describe the principles of their working

·                                                                                                                                                         is able to use ICT hard‑ and software, if necessary ‑ using help‑system or manual

·                                                                                                                                                         knows the principles and methods of ICT‑based active‑ and project learning

·                                                                                                                                                         on the computer creates instruction for students' independent work

·                                                                                                                                                         is able to find extra materials for his students in Internet and other electronic sources

·                                                                                                                                                         evaluates info/resources/materials critically, compares alternatives and refers correctly

·                                                                                                                                                         collects data and systemizes them with the support of ICT

·                                                                                                                                                         uses different means of ICT to form and present his works

·                                                                                                                                                         describes the role of ICT in the modern society, understands the role of ICT in the dynamics of labour market and his professional development

·                                                                                                                                                         is aware of‑the juridical norms and rules connected with distributing and using ICT and behaves according to them                                                           

·                                                                                                                                                         is aware of the‑dangers of using ICT‑to his and his students' health,‑social and mental development

·                                                                                                                                                         uses e‑mail communicating with students, parents and colleagues.

6.8.6      Estonian Policy documentation – student ICT skills specifications from the national Department of Education.



Chapter 3.

Information technology and teaching media

Part 1. Information technology



·                  § 351. Information technology as a passing subject


(1)    Developing the competence of information technology in the comprehensive school is not connected with any concrete platform of hard‑ or software, producing company or set of software.


·                   § 352. The Aims of Learning


The aims of teaching information technology as a passing subject are:

1)   The student understands the economic, social and ethical aspects connected with using information technology;

2)   The student masters the skills of using information technology independently. omandab infotehnoloogiavahendite iseseisva kasutamise oskused [sic].


·                   § 353. The School‑leavers' Competence by the End of Comprehensive School and

·                   Gymnasium


The school‑leaver:

1)   uses effectively and skillfully the input devices of the computer (mouse, keyboard), output devices (printer, monitor) and the memory devices (diskette, CD‑ROM, hard drive);

2)   knows how to use the graphical interface of the operation system;

3)   knows how to use the local network and administer the document files;

4)   can use the correct terminology in his mother tongue when speaking about information technology, can describe the simpler problems connected with hard‑ and software;

5)   behaves ethically and correctly when using information technology, is aware of the consequences of misuse information technology;

6)   handles the hard‑ and software with responsibility and economically;

7)   can describe the role of information technology in the society and the importance of that from the aspect of choice of vocation;

8)   is able to plan, create and present interesting texts, multimedia presentations, advertisements etc that have been made independently or in co‑operation with classmates using information technology;

9)   uses information technology effectively to find information and to communicate on academic aims, chooses the best way to solve the problem or task;

10) understands the necessity of critical evaluation of the Internet resources (is it correct, appropriate, sufficient and objective);

11) can manage with easier statistical analysis with information technology (frequency, average, diagrams).


[1] originally an acronym from ‘Poland and Hungary: Action for the Restructuring of the Economy’

[2] Whilst the EU was legislating to preserve species of wolf which were disappearing from Nordic Countries, Estonia was plagued with many more than were considered safe.