More than 1,000 computers have been donated to help children study at home in the last month after the education system moved online due to the emergency situation. But some pupils are still finding it hard to participate.
As a result of the government initiating an emergency situation to mitigate the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) on March 12, the entire Estonian school system moved online from Monday, March 16. Classes are now taught online, and pupils learn at home. But soon afterwards it became apparent that not all children were able to participate.
A project called "A Computer for Every Student!" (Igale koolilapsele arvuti!), which sprung up as soon as the emergency situation was declared, has so far matched approximately 1,200 donated computers and laptops with school children across the country.
The volunteer-led organization said by April 7 around 700 families had reported needing a device: "Which for a small population of just 1.3 million, is a significant amount," the group said in a press release.
The team has been cooperating with schools and local authorities around the country, to make sure devices go to families who need them the most. Omniva has been helping to deliver computers nationwide, and Telia has been providing free wifi connections to those families who need it.
Computers still needed in Tartu
While a spokesperson for Tallinn City Government told ERR News that all pupils in the capital who need a computer or laptop now have one thanks to schools loaning equipment to pupils, the situation is not the same in Tartu.
Kairit Peekman, from Tartu City Government, told ERR News approximately 20 devices are still needed for children in the county. At the beginning of the emergency situation, it was estimated 70 were needed, and so far dozens have been donated.
Peekman said: "The current situation shows that students need certain electronic devices in order to be able to learn and this, in turn, may create a disadvantaged situation for some families. For this reason, we are extremely grateful for the entrepreneurs and private individuals of Tartu, who have been quick to lend a helping hand.
"Currently, the estimate is that about 20 students are still on the waiting list for a computer, according to data received from schools between March 18 -31. We believe that with the help of donors, this need will soon be fulfilled."
She said over 40 computers have been donated by families living in Tartu via the "A Computer for Every Student!" initiative. Companies have been involved as well, she said. Heathmont Grupp OÜ donated 18 brand new computers, six were provided by Click&Grow, three by Mooncascade, and the rest by private individuals.
Schools have also lent laptops to their students, to be returned after the emergency situation. Local volunteer Anatoli Dorkin, from Tartu Annelinna High School, also reinstalled operating systems and added necessary programs to the donated laptops.
Peekman said many people had responded to an appeal put out by local entrepreneur Asko Seeba, founder of software company Mooncascade, to donate equipment. On Monday, Mooncascade posted on their Facebook page that at least 17 devices are still needed.
Computers found for large families
A week after the start of the emergency situation, the Estonian Association of Large Families also put out an appeal for devices having received information from 440 families who needed approximately 700 computers for schoolwork.
At that time, president of the association Aage Õunap said the biggest problem was that while most families have a computer, this is not sufficient for several children to be able to do their schoolwork as well as for a parent working remotely.
On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the organization told ERR News: "The greatest need for computers is currently covered", and almost 200 computers have been found with the help of the "Computer for Every Student!' initiative.
The spokesperson added: "All the families who did not have at least one computer for every three school-aged children have received a computer. The association will continue to work on providing computers for remote learning for the families in need since there might be more families who are lacking computers to keep up with studying. Those families who approached us and responded to the target group have received help."
The majority of families who contacted the organisation were from the heavily populated Harju, Pärnu, Tartu and Viljandi counties.
The organization also provided the following data on the destinations of all 195 donated computers:
Volunteer initiative handing over to NGO
Maria Rahamägi, communications coordinator of the "A Computer for Every Student!" initiative, told ERR, that as a citizens' initiative, the volunteers are now wrapping up their activities and handing over to an NGO.
While some details still need to be finalized, in future, they will collect used devices from corporations and hand them over to local authorities to be given to families who have students with either no computers at all or less than one per three students.
Rahamägi said: "Our goal is to make sure that all Estonian students can study from home any time when needed from here on, and that an initiative of this size will never be needed again."
Comment from the Ministry of Education and Research
When asked what the Ministry of Education and Research was doing to resolve the problem, a spokesperson told ERR News almost €15 million has been invested in the past years to provide digital devices for schools.
The statement said: "If a student does not have a computer at home or if several siblings have difficulties with sharing one computer for submitting learning tasks (during the distance learning period) we ask them to contact the teacher or the school. The school shall (in cooperation with the school manager) provide the student with the computer for study purposes. Schools can temporarily share school computers or find another appropriate solution case by case.
"Furthermore, schools must ensure that the workload is proportionally distributed between screen time and off-screen time when planning their studies. Students do not have to only use computers to learn. While the teacher can submit learning tasks via the Internet, learning can also continue through textbooks, workbooks, worksheets, books, etc. In this case, we recommend sending a photo of the completed assignment to the teacher. Flexible deadlines can also be used."
Contacts for those wishing to donate a computer
ERR News only spoke to councils in Tallinn in Tartu, but there may be a need for devices in other counties too. If you can help, contact your local council or the "A Computer for Every Student!" website (link in Estonian) or on Facebook.
If you can help a child in Tartu, contact Kairit Peekman at Tartu City Government: [email protected]
Editor: Helen Wright