Head of Education and Youth Authority: Preparing to meet the unknown

Ulla Ilison.
Ulla Ilison. Source: Education and Youth Authority

One needs to keep learning in a constantly changing world. Every Estonian must have the opportunity to learn based on their interests and ability at any moment and in the format most suited to their needs, while marrying it with work, family and hobbies, Ulla Ilison writes.

The saying that "we are living exciting times" is both hopelessly worn out and more relevant than ever today. Changes taking place in the world are affecting us all and require rapid reaction but also preparation.

We need to be ready to work jobs that have not been invented yet, handle technology that doesn't exist and solve problems we cannot foresee. This can only be achieved with the help of education and science. Schools need to be on the forefront of these efforts. Luckily, we have one of the best education systems in the world right here.

In order to keep up with the traffic on the global village expressway, we need to continually reevaluate our habits, knowledge and tricks of the trade – that which has brought us success might no longer work tomorrow. None of us imagined that a simple virus could put the entire world under house arrest and test everyone's patience and ability to adjust a year ago. However, these difficult circumstances have lent our digital turn great momentum.

According to the recent PISA survey, 84 percent of young people in Estonia feel confident when navigating digital devices. At the same time, the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) found that adults in Estonia only coped modestly in a high-tech environment: only 10 percent of adults knew how to make versatile use of a computer five years ago.

We do not have a current scientific picture of the tech skills of adults – the coronavirus crisis has postponed the survey, while we can be quite sure things have changed by today.

Digital prowess of adults must catch up to that of youths

We need to help the so-called digital migrants generation catch up to the high level of digital awareness among youngsters – the parents and grandparents of young people today. It is crucially important to create IT educational opportunities also for adult training courses, especially considering the clear edge this provides on the labor market.

Digital skills need to be developed constantly, irrespective of the person's age – that is one of the priorities of the Education and Youth Authority. We support teachers' efforts to involve digital prowess in their work and organize trainings for boosting their digital skills.

The development of digital technology has reached a phase where the world's collective knowledge exists in a virtual cloud and is available to both people and AI. Even simple everyday activities like boiling water or buying a bus ticket require digital skills in a high-tech environment. Routine mechanical labor and data collection is increasingly becoming the business or robots. People will be left with what computers aren't yet good at – creativity.

The same applies in education – the more routine activities the teacher can entrust to technology, the more important their role as a guide on the student's path becomes. The Education and Youth Authority wants to introduce modern infrastructure to support innovative personalized learning, so-called digital education records in the coming years.

This infrastructure would give students and teachers data using which every student could be assisted in finding a suitable path. So that everyone could learn based on their ability, interests and needs and at a comfortable pace.

Vital skills in a changed world

We know and can do more every day, while we need to keep learning in what is a constantly changing world. Every Estonian must have the opportunity to learn based on their interests and ability at any moment and in the format most suited to their needs, while marrying it with work, family and hobbies. Factual knowledge has not been enough for some time – the focus is on key skills.

One of these – the ability to cooperate – is crucial for a small country sporting an open economy like Estonia. Participating in innovative global initiatives can yield investments and jobs. A self-sufficient and creative member of society is built around the ability to think critically and solve problems.

The ability to manage oneself is another precondition of coping with change. Remote working using virtual environments requires discipline, self-motivation and constant self-development. I'm sure that these skills will help us create a happier and more successful society members of which can cope and retain feelings of security for tomorrow and the day after despite crises.

We do not know future professions and technologies, while we can prepare for meetings with the unknown by standing ready to learn our entire lives.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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