Digital technology has added another dimension to this equation. While it may not fundamentally alter the basics of schooling, it does hold the potential to facilitate the way students learn and how educators teach.
Estonia fits the bill of a country with an exemplary egalitarian educational system, which it has developed over the quarter-century since it gained independence in 1991. What’s more, it is actively adapting it to the challenges the digital economy poses.
Given the lessons Estonia could hold for other countries, France Stratégie and the Estonian Embassy organized a round table earlier in May in Paris to explore in depth Estonia’s excellent and highly equitable educational system.
Inclusive and high quality
The small Baltic state’s scores in the OECD’s most recent Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA) speak for themselves: out of the 72 countries that participated, it came third in science, sixth in reading and ninth in mathematics. In terms of equity, the percent of variation in performance in science determined by a student’s socio-economic status was a low 8%.
In contrast with these results, France had a middling performance in PISA 2015, scoring 26th in science and math and 19th in reading. To make matters worse, 20% of the variation in science performance was down to socio-economic status, among the highest percentage of the countries surveyed.
Mart Laidmets, Estonia’s deputy secretary general for general and vocational education, explained his country had the luxury of being able to start from scratch in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. It decided to craft open policies that were based on inclusive and quality education for all.
Measures such as providing students with free lunches, textbooks and transport, plus needs-based financing and counselling centres are key to ensuring equitable schooling for its youth.
Estonia is also looking to the future, having launched the Estonian Lifelong Learning Strategy 2020 in 2014, with a focus on developing digital education tools such as e-learning and e-assessments.
Kristel Rillo, deputy head, e-services, Estonian ministry of education, stressed the importance of developing technological literacy at a young age while keeping in mind it has to work for pupils and not the other way around. She pointed to the necessity of incorporating a digital culture into the learning process. Estonia is committed, she said, to providing individuals with digital learning resources and a modern digital infrastructure.
Digital technology implies a different framework for learning. Margus Pedaste, professor of education technology, University of Tartu, detailed that the focus is on transferrable skills, collaboration and getting pupils to be actively involved in thinking about the learning process itself by assessing it and setting goals.
He referred to the EU’s Digital Competence Framework for Citizens, known as DigComp, which rests on five pillars: information and data literacy; communication and collaboration; digital content creation; safety (i.e. data integrity and privacy); and problem solving.
France, for its part, has also made digital skills a priority in its schooling. Mathieu Jeandron, director, digital technology in education, French ministry of education, presented the country’s online platform for assessing digital skills, PIX, which is currently being tested. It aims to help people from all walks of French society, from pupils and students to employees and regular citizens, evaluate their online savvy, helping France embrace the digital economy.
Information technology (IT) has without a doubt had an impact on education. Learners can to a certain extent acquire knowledge and interact with their peers and teachers more easily than before. IT can also be used to make learning materials more interactive and engaging, for example by using online sources and students’ own mobile devices.
A means to an end
The question is how different countries around the world have chosen to use IT in the classroom (so-called edtech). Svenia Busson set out to get some answers by co-founding Edtech World Tour.
She has visited more than 10 countries around the world, from Chile and the US to New Zealand and India. Needless to say, there are a plethora of approaches when it comes to using digital tools in schools.
But while she highlighted that each country has to adapt their use to their respective history and traditions, what matters most, she stressed, is whether the country has a clear goal when using edtech.
In other words, the technology is simply a means – it’s never a substitute for good old fashioned pedagogy.