In-depth Interviews from Estonia

Why did we go all the way to Estonia? Because it was like Maritimes in important ways. It’s roughly the same geographic size and population (1.3-million). And over the past decade, Estonia has made great strides developing its technology sector. Watch the videos in this playlist to go in-depth with the people we met with and learned from while there.

Can your kid build a robot? Should you care? In Estonia, we found out why that’s an important skill to learn. New Brunswick is strengthening technology education in its curriculum with the introduction of pilot programs on computer coding. At a pioneer school on technological education in Estonia, we learned how much improvements still need to be made back home. Grade Two students at Pelgulinna School are learning basic Internet literacy skills: staying safe in social media spheres, send e-mail and finding games on line. They are also learning the fundamentals of robotics – building basic machines that travel on wheels and writing the computer programs to make them move about on a floor space or table. Boys and girls are learning side by side, helping to break down gender stereotypes about technological interests and abilities.

Interview participants:
New Brunswick delegation representatives: David Alston and René Boudreau
Ms. Birgy Lorenz, Teacher, Pelgulinna High School

 

Does our region have a vision for the future? The Estonian one certainly does, making a virtue of necessity like we need to do. Estonia built an IT economy because it didn’t have abundant natural resources. It had people, and the foresight to prepare for a world economy increasingly reliant on technology. Parliamentarian Liisa-Ly Pakosta outlined this vision in a conversation on our last afternoon in Estonia. She says the goal is to embed technology in all aspects of Estonian life – in government, business and the daily life of its citizens. The government actively promotes the idea that urban and rural people can be full participants in the economy and society with a focus on electronic innovation. We need to understand – and embrace – the transformational impact of technology on our region as well.

Discussion participants:
David Alston and René Boudreau, New Brunswick delegation representatives
Meeting with Mrs. Liisa-Ly Pakosta, Chairman, Canada-Estonia Parliamentary Group, Parliamnent of Estonia

 

We’ve all heard some variation on the expression, “Get them while they’re young and the possibilities are endless.” A visit to Estonia’s Tallinna High School taught us the importance of introducing programming and robotics early on in a child’s education. Despite its successes, Estonia is still in the early stages of revamping their technology curriculum. Students are now being introduced to technology education in the early grades, but the high school students are just getting their first taste as well. At Tallinna, students were learning about robotics and programming for the first time, so they hadn’t seen enough to inspire them to enter fields such as computer science or engineering. If they – and we here in New Brunswick – catch them in the early grades, they may be well on their way to careers in IT by the time they hit high school.

Interview participants:
New Brunswick delegation representatives: David Alston and René Boudreau
Principal, teachers and students from Estonia’s Tallinna High school

 

Where do we find the people to fill of the jobs? It’s a welcome, but daunting challenge that Estonia is meeting head on. It’s had great success inspiring and training a new generation of IT workers, but it still needs thousands more to fill new jobs. Estonia aims to recruit 5,000 new workers every year, but it’s surrounded by countries like Sweden and Finland, with goals of upward of 30,000 new workers in a single year. This projected need preoccupies government officials and people we met on a visit to the Mektory, a four-storey building that hosts a network of test laboratories, workshops, demo studios of companies, and an exhibition and conference hall. The Mektory is a place where science and market demand meet in order to carry out innovative projects. We need to feel the same sense of urgency here as we develop a fast-growing tech sector that will need people to fill the new jobs.

Interview participants:
New Brunswick delegation representatives: David Alston and René Boudreau
Mrs. Kairi-Liis Ustav
Mr. Taavi Kotka, Deputy Secretary General for Communication and State Information Systems, Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications
Ms. Ave Lauringson, Specialist, Information Systems Department, Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications
Ms. Kadri Ugand, GameFounders
Ms. Tea Varrak, Director, Mektory
Mr. Aleksander Vassiljev, Assistant, Mektory

 

Which countries are on the leading edge of computer education in schools? The U.S.? India? Nope. Estonia and Finland – two relatively small countries like Canada – are leading the way, and it’s transforming their societies and economies for the better. Our team visited these two European countries to learn lessons we could apply here. We first paid a visit to Estonia. On Day One we went to the Information Technology for Education Foundation (ITEF), which brings together unions, colleges, businesses, and other players interested in helping shape the integration and teaching of technology in the country’s education system. “Our work is to teach teachers to teach,” they say. In a country where IT is considered a prime economic driver and job creator, Estonia has placed a premium on technology education, from the primary schools to its universities and colleges.

Discussion participants:
David Alston and René Boudreau, New Brunswick delegation representatives
Ms. Ene Koitla, Member of the Management Board, ITFE
Ms. Inga Kõue, Project Manager,E-learning Development Center
Mrs. Kairi-Liis Ustav

 

Why did we go all the way to Estonia? Because it was like Maritimes in important ways. It’s roughly the same geographic size and population (1.3-million). And over the past decade, Estonia has made great strides developing its technology sector. “Our only resource is our people,” says one IT representative. “We’ve got our two hands and our heads” to help drive GDP growth. We met with many organizations committed to growing the IT workforce by forming partnerships and providing support to the education system. We discovered that industry and government leaders from the Maritimes have much to learn from a society that places a premium on providing IT education to young people, especially the relatively untapped market of young women.

Interview participants:
New Brunswick delegation representatives: David Alston and René Boudreau
Mr. Indrek Vimberg, ICT Demo Center
Mrs. Kairi-Liis Ustav, E-School representative, ICT Demo Centre
Mrs. Doris Põld, Estonian Association of Information Technology And Telecommunications
Ms. Kristi Kivilo, Director, Look World Foundation, Smartlabs
Ms. Jaana Ala

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