Estonia is known and recognized worldwide as a successful and innovative e-state. What prompted Estonia to implement the Tiger Leap project in education which started the digitalization of the entire public sector?
Estonia’s efforts to leverage technology for teaching and learning began in the 1990s with an ambitious Tiigrihüpe (Tiger Leap) programme to build up schools’ technology infrastructure, including providing internet access to all schools. By 2001, Estonia had already met this goal.
The rapid development of information technology has played an essential part in the reconstruction of the Estonian state after the restoration of its independence. Today Estonia is one of the most digitized societies in the world, with a large number of public services available to citizens online, broadband internet coverage across the majority of the country etc.
This implies the existence of digitally aware citizens who are able to use everyday e-services, know how to use the Internet safely, apply their digital skills in their professional life, and so on. This places greater demands on our educational system.
After Estonia restored its independence in 1991, it started the vigorous modernization of its educational system, using information technology for the benefit of social development. The Tiger Leap Program was launched in 1996 by Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Jaak Aaviksoo and Lennart Georg Meri.
The program was built on three pillars — computers and the Internet, basic teacher training and native-language electronic courseware for general education institutions.
In order to achieve these goals, the Tiger Leap Foundation was established in 1997.
The first step was to provide all schools with computers and internet access. All schools were provided with computers by 2000 and by the year 2001, all schools were connected to the Internet as well. The local governments, whose priority was to expand school computer systems, received financial support from Tiger Leap Foundation equal to what they could invest themselves.
Basic ICT courses for teachers were organized – in 1997 nearly 4000 teachers participated in the 40-hour computer basic training course, with thousands more in the next years. In 1999, new courses in electronic courseware, online information searches and preparation of educational materials were introduced.
Tiger Leap Plus, which followed the Tiger Leap program, focused mainly on the ICT competences of students, teachers and educational staff. Its main activities included the creation of electronic educational materials, in-service training and support of teacher cooperation and experience exchanges.
An educational portal known as SchoolLife was launched in 2001, giving teachers the opportunities to exchange ideas and ask for advice from colleagues, and allowing them to share good ideas, find educational materials, and discover useful links and electronic courseware information.
Alongside the development of instructional and teaching material, teacher training was developed to accommodate this change. The priority was to create teacher trainers within the education community and to take the training as close to the participants as possible.
By 2004, teachers’ computer use had diversified tutorial work and teachers’ computer skills had significantly improved. Over the next decade, the range of courses diversified considerably and a network of teacher trainers formed to provide courses all over the country.
In 2012, two more important programs for Estonian technology education were launched.
The aim of the ProgeTiger programme was to improve technological literacy and digital competence of teachers and students. The program provides children and youth with the skills they need to cope in the future. Robotics, programming, and STEAM subjects are very suitable for this as children learn to solve problems, to be creative, to collaborate, and to think critically.
To promote higher education in ICT also the IT Academy programme was launched. This is a cooperation and development program between the state, the ICT sector companies and universities aimed at improving the quality and international competitiveness of higher ICT education and ensuring the necessary labor resources for the field with a view to creating the conditions for growth in the ICT sector.
The program was inspired by the shortage of ICT professionals, which in turn puts pressure on the higher education system. It was necessary to increase the relevance of ICT higher education to the needs of society – to improve the level of competence of graduates and to increase the number of ICT professionals in general. Read more about how Estonia is solving the shortage of ICT specialists.
One of the five strategic priorities set in the Estonian education strategy, known as the Lifelong Learning Strategy 2020, is a digital focus on lifelong learning. This means that modern digital technology is used for learning and teaching more effectively and efficiently, that the entire population’s digital skills improve, and that access to the new generation of digital infrastructure is ensured.
To achieve these objectives, the Ministry of Education and Research approved the Digital Focus Program in 2014 with the aim of developing a comprehensive approach to the development of digital competence and the targeted deployment of digital opportunities in the learning process, thereby supporting the changed approach to education.