Digital Competence: Empowering teachers and students


To engage fully and effectively in the social, economic, cultural, political or administrative spheres, the citizens of Estonia need to be digitally competent.

In addition to that pragmatic necessity, there is an education policy imperative. That policy imperative is reflected in various versions of the national curricula beginning in 2014, in the strategic plan for education entitled the Lifelong Learning Strategy 2020, and as of 2019 in the teacher professional standards. The current Education 2035 strategy foresees development of digital competence, content and platforms that help improve the accessibility, diversity and efficiency of education. The strategy will soon be accompanied by new detailed action plans and financing in service of those strategic goals.

To date, teacher and student digital competence frameworks have been created and are in widespread use. These are complemented with self-assessment instruments, other tools, and several professional development initiatives. These are described below, as is the value creation process.

Value creation process

The value creation process is both systematic (i.e. using agreed-upon reference points and processes) and iterative in nature (i.e. following a cycle of assessment, reflection and enhancement).

The monitoring of and support for teachers and students in Estonia in developing their digital competence align with the European Commission’s DigCompEdu and DigComp frameworks respectively. They also align with the national curricula and related strategic plans. 

Digital competence development work is coordinated by the Digital Competence task force and, the National Education and Youth Board of Estonia (Harno). It also involves experts from Tallinn University, the University of Tartu and various schools. This group meets monthly to adapt, validate and pilot digital competence frameworks and respective assessment instruments for various educational contexts (i.e. pre-primary, primary, secondary, vocational, higher education).

Twice a year, the group reports to the Digital Competence Council (the body representing key stakeholders). Harno then uses these digital competence frameworks for designing and providing relevant continuing professional development for teachers and defines expected learning outcomes for students for all key stages of learning. Harno is also responsible for designing, delivering and improving diagnostic online assessment instruments.

Digital competence frameworks

Defined competences serve as targets for both teachers and students. As such, the teacher and student digital competence frameworks offer integrated and common reference points for analysing and supporting the development of digital competence. These describe the competences needed to solve problems faced during the teaching and/or learning processes (de facto in working life as well) using digital technologies.

Teachers’ digital competence framework

The Estonian teachers’ digital competence framework is adapted from DigCompEdu 2019 and it has six dimensions:

i.e. communication, co-operation, reflection and professional development using digital technologies

i.e. choosing, creating and sharing digital learning materials

i.e. managing and using digital technologies in teaching and learning

i.e. using digital technologies to enhance learning

i.e. using digital technologies to actively engage learners, to support differentiation, individualisation, and the development of learners’ general competences/skills

i.e. supporting students in developing the competences described in the next paragraph

Students’ digital competence framework

The students’ digital competence framework is adapted from DigComp 2.1 and it has five dimensions:

  1. information and data literacy (e.g. articulating needs, judging the relevance of sources, organising digital data);
  2. communication and collaboration;
  3. digital content creation (e.g. creating, improving and editing, understanding copyright, giving understandable instructions to computer systems);
  4. safety;
  5. problem-solving.

There is an additional adapted version of the framework for students with special needs.

Additional resources

The digital competence frameworks are complemented with diverse tools that are intended to support their implementation. These are described below.

There is a publicly accessible set of student assessment criteria for each key stage of education, linked to the five dimensions of the students’ digital competence framework. These have been broken down by each of the four key stages of general education (i.e. end of Grades 3, 6, 9 and 12). Teachers can use these to assess student progress in building digital competence. In turn, they can use the resulting data to plan for how to further enhance student learning. Students can also use the criteria to set their own learning targets.

An online digital competence self-assessment questionnaire is available to teachers. Teachers can use it to analyse their own digital competence, and to draw conclusions about their strengths and development needs.

There is a digital glossary associated with both the student and teacher competence frameworks, as well as with digital assessment criteria and digital learning in general. These provide teachers, and by extension students, with the common language needed to discuss digital teaching and learning.

A digital competence test was piloted in 2018 using automatically graded tasks in the national web-based Examination Information System (EIS). The tests are mark-free.

In 2019, a representative sample of 7.4% of Grade 9 and 15.8% of Grade 12 students was tested. Other students could through their school choose to take the test voluntarily. In 2019, 24.3% of all Grade 9 and 19.8% of all Grade 12 students took the test. In 2021, a representative sample of 14.4% of Grade 8 and 21.1% of Grade 11 students was tested. Again, students could through their school choose to take the test voluntarily. In 2021, a total of 49.7% of Grade 8 and 28.4% of Grade 11 students took the test. The tests’ popularity has risen in particular in Grade 8.

The testing instruments are now under further development. In 2022, a representative sample of Grade 8 and 11 students will be tested. At the same time, any Grade 8 or 11 student will through their school be free to take the test, if they so wish. Thereafter, the tests will be honed and should be available annually.

Students taking the digital competence test receive a feedback report on how they performed nationally in relation to their peers (i.e. better, similar, below) in each of the five dimensions of the digital competence framework. No advice is provided per se, but as each of the five categories has indicators, and feedback is provided on each indicator, students get a strong indication of what they have mastered and what they need to improve. If a statistically significant number of students voluntarily take the test, teachers receive anonymised feedback reports on their class(es), and schools on whole-school performance.

Digital learning stories which describe best practices in integrating learning and the development of digital competences in various school subjects are being collected. These learn- ing stories will be published with open access.

Professional development programmes on digital competence for teachers

Some examples of professional development opportunities that support the development of teacher and student digital competence follow.

This 39-hour programme focuses on supporting subject teachers so they can gain a deeper understanding of how digital technologies can be used to teach and promote student learning in their subjects, and ultimately student digital competence. The training programme is based on the students’ digital competence framework.

The six-month programme offers professional development to school teams. Participants are divided (based on their level of usage of digital technology) between basic training (32 hours) and advanced training (30 hours).

The basic training is in the fundamentals of integrating digital technologies into the learning process and the advanced training focuses on teachers who are more experienced in the field of educational technology. In addition, management is schooled in digital leadership (39 hours) and the whole team receives 48 hours of coaching. Schools have their digital development externally assessed one year after the start of the training programme.  Read also: Teachers improve their digital competence in Digital Accelerator

The 26-hour train-the-trainer initiative focuses on helping participants build the knowledge and skills needed to support the professional development of their co leagues. These colleagues have yet to have made widespread use of digital technologies for teaching and learning. In 2021, the focus has been on remote learning.

Numerous short courses are offered every year on supporting student digital learning. These have included how to make the best use of commonly used digital tools/platforms such as Moodle, Google Classroom and MS Teams.

Participation rates

Between 18–21% of teachers in general education in Estonia take part in ICT-related professional development courses per annum by Harno.

Further information

As knowledge and skills always also reflect values, the next chapter discusses how school stakeholders can work together to create values-based learning environments that support the holistic development and well-being of each student.

Veebiarendus Veebiarendus Pineparks.ee