Tag Archives: Estonia

What does it look like to go back to school? It’s different all around the world…

This week, IEN’s Thomas Hatch summarizes some of the reports and stories that describe the many different ways schools are starting the new semester and new school year following the coronavirus closures earlier this year. In many cases, the differences in reopening plans differ as much within countries as across them.

            New years and new semesters have started in schools all around the world over Some openings have included celebrations – like a “dazzling drone show” welcoming students back to school in Nanjing China – but often openings have taken place as coronavirus cases have spiked in countries like Germany, France, and Jordan. Teachers all over are expressing major concerns about schools reopening before conditions are safe, with teachers unions filing labor board complaints in Toronto, and in New York City, threats of a strike delayed the opening of schools at least two weeks.  For those schools continuing with remote learning, concerns about equity and problems equipping all students with devices and internet connections remain even after months of closures.  At the same time, The New York Times reports “China is harnessing the power of its authoritarian system to offer in-person learning for about 195 million students in kindergarten through 12th grade at public schools.”

Among the approaches to reopening schools around the world:

  • In Spain, with the fastest growing infection rate in Europe, requirements for public schools are more stringent:  class sizes are being reduced; students are assigned to “bubbles” with a small number of classmates; desks must be positioned at least 1 ½ meters apart; all schools must improve open-air ventilation, and students must wear masks. Yet some private schools have been able to take advantage of their own resources to create open-air enclosures, increase staff and take other steps to adjust.
  • In Norway, as schools reopened in cities like Oslo, cases rose to a “yellow,” caution level, and if they continue to rise to a “red” level, schools will have to close again. The Norwegian authorities have not mandated the use of face masks in schools, but many schools have dropped the tradition of allowing parents of first graders to shake hands with the principal and follow their children into their classrooms as part of a formal welcome for their very first day of school. (“Corona clouds the first day of schoolNewsinenglish.no)
  • In Estonia, some schools are almost “back to normal” but others are making their own adaptions to slow the spread of the virus.  One school is alternating between one week learning in school and the next two weeks learning online from home, while another has reduced class sizes, shortened classes, decreased the length of the school day and included “movement” days where students spend the whole day outside. (“New academic year: Alternating distance and contact learningERR.ee).
  • Hong Kong schools plan to resume face-to-face classes in stages, on a half-day basis with students from some years, such as those starting primary or secondary schools among the first back
  • In Germany, testing for students and educators has been “fast and free,” with quick contact tracing making it possible to isolate cases and contain spread. As the New York Times reported, after schools were open in Berlin for a few weeks: 49 teachers and students had been infected, but with testing and targeted quarantines, only about 600 students out of some 366,000 have had to stay home on any given day. (“Schools Can Reopen, Germany Finds, but Expect a ‘Roller Coaster’”, New York Times).
  • In the US, opening plans differ drastically depending on location as 65% of rural districts plan to start fully in-person, but only 24% of suburban districts and 9% of urban districts plan to do so; overall, estimates suggest 26% of districts plan to open fully remote, but over 40% of the highest-poverty districts will do so (Getting Back to School: An Update on Plans from Across the Country, Center on Reinventing Public Education). In Los Angeles, although almost all students are still learning from home, the district is trying to put in place a massive testing program to test and screen all 700,000 students and 75,000 employees in order to reopen the schools. (L.A. Schools Begin Testing 775,000 Students and Workers, New York Times).  In New York City, the teachers union continues to express concerns about the plans to open with in-person learning, and at the same time, over 40% of students (approximately 422,000 students) have enrolled in all-remote learning. (55 NYC School Staff Test Positive; Nearly Half of Students Opt for All-Remote, NBCNewYork).

Exploring the rising stature of Estonia’s education system

This week, we shared an article (via Twitter) from our colleagues at The Hechinger Report about the rising stature of the Estonian education system. We also asked several colleagues from Estonia, including Margus Pedaste, Professor of Educational Technology and Vice Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Education, University of Tartu, to comment on the article.

Estonia has not made big changes in the education system, Dr. Pedaste explained, but it has updated the national curriculum. Further, an increased focus on “general transferable competences (e.g. mathematical competence, digital competence, learning skills, communication competence),” has required some changes in teaching practice “even if this change is not often too big.” He also suggested that e-learning software and hardware are often used in Estonian schools today and may have influenced the results.

In responding to the comment that no one in Estonia “would say the school system is doing fine,” Pedaste concurred. “Yes, that’s what we hear very often in Estonia. We are very outcome-oriented and less process oriented and, even if teachers value student-centered approaches in learning, their lessons are still rather teacher-centered.” He added that Estonian teachers, on the whole are veterans, in fact their level of experience in teaching is among longest within OECD countries, at more than 20 years. As he put it “ This experience allows them to use the extensive practical knowledge they have and this might be one of the main reasons of good academic results.”

Pedaste also pointed out, that, as in Finland, most of Estonian teachers have a Master’s Degree, and “subject teachers” usually have a Master Degree in their subject plus a year of teacher training. He added that during the last 10-15 years new integrated Master Programs in teacher education have been developed and regularly updated based on international research-based and innovative ideas. Pre-service education for teachers is also always at least five years which likely contributes to the academic results. However, Pedaste continued, concerns in Estonia include that very often graduates do not want to become teachers, especially in subject areas like science and mathematics. From his perspective, this means that “something is wrong. And it is probably that not enough attention is given to developing soft skills, on collaboration and supporting each other. Too often Estonians are individualistic and competitive while real success and joy comes from collaborative effort.” While recent strategies have emphasized collaboration among teacher, Pedaste concluded “we still need more time to create a cultural change.”