What the papers say: IT education in schools and a 'Bronze Solider' app

Estonian newspapers (picture is illustrative).
Estonian newspapers (picture is illustrative). Source: Postimees/Scanpix

Deficiencies in IT education in schools, questions about Nordica being taxpayer-funded despite not flying from Tallinn, and the issue of censorship are some of the topics in Estonia's daily newspapers on Monday Sept. 16. The future of electric scooters and the ever-present Russian-language misinformation are also current topics.

All links are to articles written in Estonian.

Constant teen smartphone use doesn't translate to tech whizzkids of the future

While you could be forgiven for thinking that young people today all have top notch IT skills, given the amount of time they spend glued to their smartphones, playing computer games, and taking advantage of WiFi everywhere, this is not necessarily the case, according to Kristi Salum in daily Eesti Päevaleht (EPL).

Students' understanding of IT, despite robotics being introduced as early as kindergarten level, is still sorely lacking, with the image of being the new Elon Musk or Steve Jobs trumping the "nerdy" coder, according to a University of Tartu survey, and education actually saw something of a reverse in this field in 2011, when IT was removed from the national curriculum as a separate entity, being integrated into part of the acquisition of "other knowledge".

Even in the classes they do have, students often focus more on spreadsheets and the like, rather than coding, testing and software development, which means their skills sets are not likely to match with the most-desired employers according to a 2019 CV survey cited by the paper, which placed technology-related destinations such as Skype and Transferwise, as well as companies which employ plenty of specialists in that area, including Swedbank, Eesti Energia and Telia, at the top of the list.

A major factor is the lack of computer science teachers in the country – around 300 of them – as well as a lack of leeway for those teachers to encourage students to develop in this area, particularly as many companies including Cleveron are often recruiting for positions which would suit a smarter high school graduate while they still study, having the advantage of offering more flexible hours than working in a restaurant or cafe.

Possible solutions are on the horizon, the article said, with the Information Technology Foundation for Education (HTSA) developing upper secondary level computing courses which cover coding, design, testing, project management and other roles, with optional courses starting in late September for computer science teachers as well, though ultimately acquiring competence in this field, while not necessary for every student, is the responsibility of both schools and parents, the article finds, with the latter playing an important role in seeing that all that screen time at least comes to some practical use.

Support for the EPL piece line came from entrepreneur Ruth Oltjer, who noted that in the field of robotics and engineering, the shortage was particularly marked.

Writing for news portal Geenius, Oltjer said that while her own field of pharmaceuticals (she is co-founder of Chemi-Pharm, a disinfectants and cosmetics manufacturer Chemi-Farm ), the situation was quite healthy, much more telling was the fact that public administration was the most popular area of study at Tallinn University of Technology (Taltech), no less.

Oltjer also slammed math teaching techniques in upper secondary schools, which she claims are too "soft" and cost students in the longer run.

Don't need to be flagship carrier, to attract direct Tallinn links, says Nordica subsidiary manager

Another EPL piece shed more light on the situation with Nordica, the state-owned airline which currently does not actually fly anywhere from Tallinn airport.

Communications manager at Nordica subsidiary Regional Jet, Toomas Uibo, said that the move away from generating its own ticket sales and flights under its own brand show that Nordica is affected by changes in the aviation industry, which as a small company in a small country, it could adapt to quickly.

Over the past decade or so, long-haul flights have been the focus of the giant companies, with smaller and regional routes being the focus of a changing business model, which sees them operated by companies like Nordica and Regional Jet, on behalf of the airlines themselves (Nordica for instance operates a regional route in Sweden).

This outsourcing by the bigger companies means the picture is changing, and airlines which sell fewer than 10 million tickets per year are not going to survive under their own steam, Uibo said, including Air Baltic, the Latvian company which carries around 4 million passengers per year, principally from Riga but also via Tallinn and Vilnius, which could go bankrupt as BMI did in the U.K., and FlyBe almost did, in the same country (it was taken over by Virgin).

As to why Nordica should be taxpayer-funded even when it does not provide direct flights to, well, Estonian taxpayers, Uibo said that the outsourcing business model which it and Regional Jet pursue might attract future cooperation agreements with other larger airliners to connect to Tallinn, and might even be able to take on some of Air Baltic's operations from the Estonian capital, which means in practice, Nordica is ensuring direct links to Tallinn and just doing it in a way which does not seem so obvious at a glance.

Electric scooters here to stay?

Speaking of new developments, Erik Moora in investigative weekly Eesti Ekspress looked at the phenomenon of electric scooters, which first appeared on the streets of Tallinn at least in June and have been a pain or a pleasure, depending on your perspective, ever since. Under current law, the scooters have the same status as skateboard(er)s, but the government is set to introduce amendments to the relevant act.

Questions on how to regulate the scooters, which have a top speed of around 20 km per hour, have abounded since then, but if these involved mandatory wearing of a helmet, a top speed of 7 km per hour, and restricting them to set routes, there should be no problem.

But the article questions whether this is really necessary and if it would negate the point of the electric scooters in the first place, as a convenient, environmentally friendly way to travel just about anywhere.

Moora points out a recent case where a scooter rider was hit by an Opel driver at a busy junction in Tallinn, with the driver fleeing the scene but later found, and asks if this means we should ban all cars, or at least all Opels?

This is the one and only accident of Summer, Moora says (not strictly true – as reported on ERR News a pedestrian was hit by a scooter in Tallinn earlier in the summer-ed.) and thus a knee-jerk reaction is not appropriate., though common sense should prevail, meaning there oughtn't to be any problems with scooter use going forward.

Are we really going down the censorship route?

Censorship was the order of the day in an article by Neeme Raud in daily Postimees.

Last week, the enterprise department ordered the removal of outdoor adverts which publicized an exhibition at Tallinn gallery Fotografiska by U.K. photographer Alison Jackson, as reported by ERR News. Some of the adverts infringed the law on public decency, it was argued.

However, unlike election campaigning adverts by Estonia 200, contesting its first election in March this year, which were removed immediately on the grounds they incited division (the ads were intended to highlight divisions in society between Estonian-speakers and Russian-speakers-ed.), the Fotografiska exhibition ads were up a good two weeks before anyone noticed or complained, Raud said, and they did not contain genuine nudity, exhortations to violence etc.

This smacks of not a police state so much as a police city, Raud argued, calling to mind the naked protest by artist Mare Tralla during the summer, who was protesting the work of fellow artist Marko Mäetamm, work which Tralla said was sexist; according to Raud the nameless official was doing much the same thing.

Another parallel Raud draws is with the seizing and confiscation by Russian customs officials of a book by U.S.-based Russian writer Masha Gessen, which provoked protest in the west that Soviet-era censorship was taking place (the Gessen book is, ironically, entitled "The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia" ).

However, according to Raud, since the Gessen book was not banned as such in Russia (he was unable to find how the case has progressed since then), western media could just as easily point the finger at Estonia on the same grounds, in other words that the banning of the Fotografiska adverts constitute the same type of "Soviet-era" mentality.

Trustworthy Russian-language news sources vie for attention with Bronze Soldier-recreating apps

Finally, and not from a newspaper but rather the counter-misinformation Propastop blog, it appears that there are Russian-language news sources which you can trust, after all. Propastop is staffed by Defence League (Kaitseliit) volunteers.

Three of the sources on this "whitelist" (link in English) are in Estonia, two from the private sector, with Postimees' 10-strong team making the cut, as well as competitor Delfi's similarly-sized team. Public broadcaster ERR also received the Propastop seal of approval, with all three forms of media – online, TV (ETV+) and radio (Raadio 4) being notable for their independent current affairs, cultural, entertainment, educational and investigative output.

Outside Estonia, Finland's Russian-language portal at public broadcaster Yle, as well as Lithuania's Delfi portal in Russian can be trusted, as well as a slew of publications in Latvia, including Re:Baltica, Meduza and public broadcaster LSM.

Counter to this, however, according to Propastop is potential misinformation making full use of consumer technology in the form of an app which recreates the "Bronze Soldier" memorial in its original location on Tõnismägi in central Tallinn.

The controversial statue was removed by the orders of the Estonian government back in April 2007, a move which was followed by several days of protest, which descended into large-scale rioting and looting, during which at least one person was killed.

The app uses augmented reality and location-based technology to make the statue "appear" when pointing a smartphone at the statue's former location, then as now a small public park. The app, called "cyber history" can be downloaded from Apple's AppStore and works on iPhones.

The app was the brainchild of an organization called Project Set, itself the offspring of Kremlin-controlled youth network Nashi, which was reportedly behind agitation during the Bronze Soldier riots and the concurrent cyber attacks on Estonia. It's development has been covered by several Kremlin-controlled media channels, including Izvestia, Propastop says.

The original statue was relocated to the Defence Forces Cemetery on Filtri Street, a couple of kilometers southeast of its original location, and is the focus of commemoration on anniversaries such as the end of World War Two (May 9 in Russia).

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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