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Three Estonian solutions that enrich educational opportunities

 

28 September 2022
by Eva Toome

 

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One of the basic principles of Estonian education is that every child must be offered an education according to his or her abilities and needs. In addition to the state, companies specialised in educational technology also contribute to this.

Eva Toome, Education Estonia

The results of Estonian pupils in the international PISA study are among the best in the world. The comparison shows that in Estonia, the place of residence or the economic status of the parents has less influence on the results of pupils compared to other countries (Estonia 6%, OECD average 12%).

How has Estonia reached this point? Equal opportunities are supported by free school meals, textbooks, school transport, and education counselling. If necessary, pupils can get help from a speech therapist or psychologist at their school or county counselling centre. Educational technology solutions offered by private companies also play their part.

Speak TX makes speech therapy more effective

Clear speech and good reading and writing skills lay the foundation for doing well both in school and elsewhere. In some cases, children and young people need specialist help to achieve this. One way to achieve it is the SpeakTX speech therapy platform, created in collaboration with speech therapists, that has a selection of over 150 exercises with more than 1000 tasks.

Who can benefit from online speech therapy?

SpeakTX is especially good for training and honing the reading and writing skills of preschoolers and elementary school pupils. Interactive tasks with pictures and sounds make practising more engaging. A child can immediately see if their answer was correct and is excited to try and get the right answers time and time again.

Online exercises are also helpful for dysgraphia. For example, for basic school pupils who are interested in improving their results. “Young people of this age often don’t want to practise with their parents, but they are ready to work intensively on their own,” claims speech therapist Lea Kübar. “I have several inspiring examples of young people who have achieved very good results by practising by themselves.”

Indispensable speech therapy can simultaneously reach many

In addition, the speech therapy application allows a therapist to monitor a learner’s progress remotely and add only those tasks that still need to be practised to the training plan.

“I have several inspiring examples of young people who have achieved very good results by practising by themselves,” says speech therapist Lea Kübar.

The fact that a therapist can see the results on an ongoing basis also adds discipline and children are motivated to practise more. “Sometimes speaking exercises can be addictive in a good way,” Lea Kübar says. Repetition, on the other hand, helps to reach results faster and thus saves everyone time and money. “The total duration of therapy has become shorter, and more people can receive indispensable speech therapy at the same time. And is as always the case with online solutions, assistance is not location-dependent – I also work with children in different Estonian cities and elsewhere, for example in Brussels.”

Today, SpeakTX is used by more than 500 schools and preschools in Estonia, and by more than 1,500 specialists – speech therapists, special pedagogues and teachers – the app is used by Estonian language teachers in their work, as well as in hospitals in follow-up treatment of speech impairments after a stroke, for example.

Edumus enriches educational opportunities

As in many countries, one of the bottlenecks in Estonian education is the lack of teachers. For many years now, Estonia has significantly contributed to supporting teaching and making the teaching profession more popular. Among other things, specialists from other disciplines are encouraged to choose teaching. A successful Estonian solution – Edumus – is also focused on this area.

Edumus is a kind of market for smart and active people, bringing together people who want to enrich their professional career with teaching with schools and pupils. Specialists can register, choose or create a course themselves and offer it to pupils from different schools.

Flexible options for both the learner and the teacher

Thanks to Edumus, Estonian high school pupils can choose between many more elective courses, and the probability of finding several interesting options is higher than ever. To date, every fifth Estonian school collaborates with Edumus, but the solution is also spreading around the world: Edumus has been collaborating with Ukraine for some time now, and a similar Edumus online school is planned to open in Armenia as well.

Kadri Kallast ended up on Edumus quite by accident: “I happened to see the episode on Edumus from the TV program Ringvaade and realised that I had really missed teaching when I was staying at home with my child,” notes Kadri, who previously worked as the head of the Viljandi Art School. Joining Edumus seemed like a good opportunity to upgrade my professional skills and at the same time teach, which I love, in a more flexible way. Sometime after Kadri had expressed her interest in teaching, Edumus contacted her, and she received an offer to teach the course “Architecture as a living environment”.

“In addition to learning how to give online lessons over the video, it was also nice to meet young architecture enthusiasts,” Kadri adds. “Students from rural areas as well as small and large cities and islands attended the course. The group soon started working together, and it was very interesting to listen to young people from various environments sharing their experiences.”

Edumus also offers courses specially designed for those who have no previous teaching experience.
Photo Edumus

A large selection of courses

Edumus offers courses on a wide range of topics: you can study financial wisdom or applied biology, game design or programming, international project management, or debate. High school pupil Arabella Järvet decided to learn more about the field of advertising. “I learned a lot about the behind-the-scenes of advertising and how ads are made.” She really liked the young teachers who taught the course and the opportunity to get a glimpse of life outside the school.

Arabella is planning to select an additional course from Edumus School in the next academic year as well: “I believe that it broadens my horizons and helps me better understand what does and does not suit me.”

The course provides the courage to stand in front of a class

But can really anyone become a teacher? Above all, the desire to share knowledge with young people is important. But in order to make the beginning smoother, Edumus also offers courses specially designed for those who have no previous teaching experience. The teacher training programme, developed with the help of specialists, provides just the right modern skills to give people the courage to stand in front of a class.

Bringing engineering skills closer to children

There is one field where there are never enough teachers, and that is technology. Either there is no technology teacher in the school or the technology classroom is ill-equipped. This concern is also close to heart for Lauri Soosaar, who has a degree in engineering and works in the company Merkuur which offers mobile technology workshops.

There are two colourful trailers in Lauri’s yard, both of which change beyond recognition when unpacked – one becomes a metal workshop, and the other is furnished with woodworking machines. With these classrooms on wheels, Merkuur has toured the whole of Estonia. Bringing a technology classroom to children is easier than attracting children to a technology class further away, shows the experience of technology teacher Lauri.

Something practical is done in every class

In the workshops on wheels, technology lessons are also held in the small Neeme school: Once a week, the Merkuur caravan pulls up in front of the school, and the crafting begins. “Schools that find a teacher like Lauri are very fortunate,” believes the head of school Karin Soosalu. “The popularisation of engineering is very dear to his heart. In class, children can get to know different materials and craft practical things with their own hands. The interest is very high, also among girls.”

Thanks to the field trips, Merkuur also reaches those children who otherwise might not come across such workshops.

In the mobile workshop, children always make something practical – a crossbow, a mobile phone holder, a table tennis racket, a memory stick case or a clock with a mechanism.

Metal and woodwork also intrigue girls

“Even if woodwork is still taught in our schools, students come into contact with metal much less – it is more difficult to process, and more expensive tools and materials are needed. Thanks to the field trips, we also reach those children who otherwise might not come across such workshops,” says Lauri Soosaar.

“Some of the boys may have seen the tools and machines we use here before, but for the girls, Merkuur’s equipment is often their first encounter with metal- and woodwork. It’s all the more gratifying to see how their eyes light up, and they want to make more and more complicated things.”

The same is confirmed by the parents of the children participating in the Merkuur technology classes. “My child always displays a lot of good emotions when she gets home. And the things they make in the group are getting more and more impressive,” confirms the mother of Andra, one of the participants. “In addition to broadening her horizon, my child has also developed communication skills and patience,” adds Lisette’s mother. 

Who are mobile workshops suitable for?

One workshop lasts one and a half to two hours, and up to 15 children can work at the same time. The mobile workshops are intended for children aged 7–18 and are particularly suitable

  • for schools that do not have a technology classroom and teacher;
  • to introduce and popularise engineering in schools, youth centres, and at events;
  • to organise hobby groups.

To date, Merkuur has already reached 20,000 young people in Estonia and held more than 2,000 workshops. Merkuur’s activities have also been noticed elsewhere. In 2020, Merkuur’s mobile workshops won the Enterprise Promotion Award of the European Commission.

Success lies in collaboration and flexibility

Estonia’s experience has shown that services offered by private companies can effectively supplement the country’s education system. Whether it is the online speech therapy of SpeakTX, which makes it possible to provide essential support to more people in need, or Edumus School, which offers enriching educational options and development opportunities for professionals. Or the solution offered by Merkuur’s mobile workshops: if a school does not have a technology classroom and teacher, the teacher can bring a classroom to the students. Because everyone has the right to a good education.

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