Estonia offers digital tools to countries struggling with coronavirus school closures

Government and tech companies in Baltic state unite to offer advanced digital learning tools to other countries

Estonia is offering its expertise and digital learning tools to countries across the world as schools are forced to close amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Although the UK government is yet to announce school closures, some schools are already being forced to close because of staff shortages as teachers self-isolate. A blanket school closure policy is possible soon if the UK follows the policies implemented by other countries.

The Estonian offer is being supported by Startup Estonia, which drives the tech industry in Estonia and is being organised by the country’s ministry of education and research, among others.

Private tech companies are offering their education software for free as part of the initiative. These include 99math, Lingvist, Clanbeat, Speakly, ALPA Kids and DreamApply. Schools and educational institutions can access the tools.

Estonia, with a population of just 1.3 million, is one of the most digital-savvy countries in the world. All government services are available online and it constantly strives to provide similar experiences in online public services that people get from the likes of Google and Amazon.

Mart Laidmets, secretary general of Estonia’s ministry of education and research, said: “Who isn’t afraid of digital education? Learning and teaching digitally are challenging even under normal circumstances. However, during the Covid-19 outbreak, digital schooling is the only option.

“We are ready to share Estonia’s best practices and solutions with the countries in need. After all, providing education is essential for a sustainable society.”

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Estonia’s creativity in using digital to support society and the economy is evidenced by programmes established by the country, such as its eResidency programme, which enables entrepreneurs from other countries to register EU businesses in the Baltic state by providing non-Estonian citizens with easy access to online government services. 

Launch in 2014, the programme creates e-residents who can start a company within a day and run it remotely, apply for a business banking account and credit card, conduct e-banking, use international payment service providers, declare taxes, and sign documents digitally.

Estonia is also a global leader in digital public services. It recently announced a plan that will ultimately allow citizens to ask Siri, Alexa or almost any other virtual digital assistant to interact with government departments on people’s behalf.

When Estonia became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991, it decided to invest in digital technology to help it compete in the global economy. Much of the country’s advances in digital are the result of its Tiigrihüpe (Tiger Leap) project in the mid-1990s which saw it invest in developing its computer and network infrastructure, including a particular focus on education.

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