England, Estonia and ICT - The Turning Point?

But we are not the first country to reform the ICT curriculum and during a recent visit to Estonia following an invitation to speak at the annual Estonian ICT teacher's conference I had the opportunity to share our experiences and learn from some of theirs.

The Michael Gove 2012 BETT speech and the decision to "disapply" our existing national curriculum programmes of study for ICT was predicated on him being told "the teaching of ICT in our schools is dull and boring".

Many teachers were surprised by this as the most recent OFSTED evidence suggested that "the teaching of ICT in over two thirds of schools was good to outstanding" especially in primary schools but OFSTED did acknowledge "there was a problem at KS4". Most ICT teachers quickly suggested that the KS4 problem was largely due to some ICT qualifications being used as "equivalents" to game the league table system and this had led to "tick box teaching".

Nevertheless the reform juggernaut, driven by the British Computer Society, and supported my Schools Minister, Elizabeth Truss, gathered pace and ICT became computing but in reality with programmes of study which are essentially computer science. There is still a strong feeling amongst many ICT teachers and IT Industry representatives that the new national curriculum, stripped of the essential components of Information Technology and Digital Literacy, neither meets the needs of all pupils nor the needs of IT employers.

This has led to claims by politicians that England is the first country to put computer programming and coding "at the heart" of the new curriculum.
During my trip I discovered the Estonians have not only beaten us to it but are also now turning their attention to a more important issue of how technology can be used to enhance learning in all subjects. The Estonian Information Technology Foundation for Education describes this, and their conference "The Turning Point".

Estonia, the most northern of the three Baltic States, a small corner of the Soviet Union until 1991, is now one of the most digitally visionary and internet dependant countries where computing is seen by young people as "fun, simple and cool".
Of course We all know Estonia is the birthplace of SKYPE, bought by Microsoft for $8.5b in 2011 still employs 450 people at its HQ on the outskirts of Tallinn.
Estonia has become E-Stonia the government's programme for schools, which was coordinated by the Tiger Leap Foundation and all Estonian schools were online with superfast broadband by the late 1990's.

The US educated and former Estonian ambassador in the US, President Toomas Hendrik IIves takes some of the credit
"We needed to computerise in every possible way so we can increase our functional size".
So nearly two years before English children start to learn computing Estonian children were being taught programming at the age of 7.
In fact the youngest generation of E-stonians encounter ICT as soon as they enter school through the e-Kool system and parents can access pupil progress, assessments, exam marks, and attendance with a touch on a screen.
The Estonian Governments commitment to support schools in the use of ICT seems to be paying off. According to the Eurydice key data on Learning and Innovation through ICT at schools in Europe "there are national strategies covering teacher training measures, ICT for learning research, e-learning/digital media literacy strategies and central steering documents for ICT learning objectives at primary and secondary levels including the use of mobile devices for learning".
According to the official steering documents both students and teachers are expected to use ICT in ALL subjects both in class and in complementary activities. There are recommendations on the use of ICT for assessments and "strong encouragement for the creation of public/private partnerships for the promotion and use of ICT".

According to the European Commission survey of ICT use in schools, which benchmarks European countries performance in terms of access, use and attitudes to ICT Estonia is near the top on virtually every measure especially on measures of staff and pupil confidence using ICT and particularly on measures such as "digitally supportive schools" "digitally equipped schools" and "digitally supportive students".
Another interesting fact to note from the survey is Estonia pupils use of their own laptops/mobile devices (BYOD) is way above the EU average.
Sadly English schools cannot be benchmarked in the study and are not included as the response rate from England was so low it made the data unreliable!
The picture emerging from Estonia is one of a visionary group of digitally savvy politicians, a well equipped technological infrastructure, a passionate commitment from the schools and teachers to make computing fun and cool and most importantly to embed the use of technology across the curriculum.

However talking to some of the teachers and teacher educators it seems they face the same problems as we do. And they are not necessarily due to the technology. Ene Koitla, from HITSA, the education foundation responsible for the conference and for promoting the effective use of ICT in Education is a regular visitor to England and BETT. She believes that attitude and behaviours are the main challenge, (picture)
"It is not a technological issue, we have the technology, it is about the hearts and minds of leaders and teachers....we need to convince them that technology will make learning better".
Piret Luik, Associate Professor of Education and Tartu University,(picture) the leading university in Estonia for the education and training of teachers said " All out teachers have to have a Masters degree in their own subject specialism but making sure they have up to date digital skills is still a challenge".

Whilst my 3rd Millenium digital literacy quiz (designed and updated by digital leaderson my website) is not a scientific measure it was noticeable that the Estonia teachers scored significantly higher than the English teacher conferences where I usually present. (picture?

Recently the Education Technology Action Group (ETAG) has been formed by Michael Gove, Matthew Hancock and David Willetts with a remit to report to Ministers how Learning Technology can be used more effectively across primary, secondary, further and higher education and has just begun work (link to ETAG).

Estonia is only 85 miles across the water from Finland, a country identified as "successful" according to the PISA tables and of course home to the once mobile leader Nokia.
Perhaps the DfE/BIS civil servants planning the next visit to the Nordic countries by Messrs Gove, Hancock and Willets should consider the 20 minute flight from Helsinki to Tallinn as a worthwhile investment of their time?

Turning Point- The Estonia ICT Teachers conference
Eurydice data on ICT in schools

European Schoolnet Survey of Schools


How Estonia became E-stonia