Skip to content

Estonia: a prototype for digital society?

Estonia, the northmost state of the Baltics region, has a population of just 1.3 million people. However, make no mistake: dubbed by many as E-stonia, this small country has been widely recognised as a relative giant within the digital realm.

Named as the ‘most digitally advanced society on the planet’, Estonia has paved the way for other countries around the world to join the digital age, through its successful digitalisation of 99% of public services. This feat was achieved by the e-Estonia initiative, launched in 1997 through collaborative efforts between the Estonian government and Enterprise Estonia.

Ranked 9th on the DESI scale out of 28 EU member states, and 7th place in the Women In Digital study, it’s clear that Estonian society is embracing the digital era. Digital development has permeated all aspects of daily life in Estonia. This is particularly apparent through the VR Estonia page, where you can learn about the benefits of Estonia’s digital society by travelling around Tallinn on a flying unicorn (yes, really).

e-estonia-VR-VI.jpg

Estonia has also developed a global citizenship who actively contribute to the growth of its economy. The country’s groundbreaking e-residency scheme, launched by the government in 2014, allows anyone across the globe to become a digital resident, register their company or enterprise and use online services. The Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, is said to be amongst those who have applied to the scheme.

Going digital has reportedly saved the state 2% of its GDP each year, through salaries and expenses, and has undoubtedly had a positive environmental impact, with almost all public services becoming paperless. Additionally, with Estonia ranking first in the national cyber security index 2018, citizens have a growing level of trust in their government and the transparency of their processes.

What does this all mean for Estonia’s workforce? Does it have the digital skills required to keep up with this rapid pace of digitalisation? How is the country approaching digital transformation from the worker’s perspective? We take a look at some of the leading public initiatives in Estonia to find the answer.

Digital skills as a policy priority

In 2000, the Estonian government declared Internet access to be a human right, ensuring that even those living in rural areas could get online. The percentage of individuals with at least basic digital skills is higher than the EU-28 average. The growth of online public services in Estonia has been accompanied continuously by efforts to improve the digital skills of the population. Digital skills are named as a policy priority in both the Digital Agenda 2020 and the Estonian education strategy, known as the Lifelong Learning Strategy 2020.

Estonia’s innovative e-approach can only succeed if its citizens and workers are digitally savvy enough to access it. Some of the challenges being faced in Estonia today are:

  • Integrating digital technologies into daily working life. Companies in Estonia are ranked 23rd in the European Union in sharing information digitally and using social media.
  • The OECD’s Survey of adult skills (PIAAC) reported that 8-10% of Estonians (between 72, 000 – 90, 000 people) have low skills in information processing and 42-44% of people are not able to cope in a technologically advanced environment.
  • Increasing the computer literacy of the older generation, with many Estonian citizens over sixty struggling with elementary IT skills.

Below we explore some of the leading public initiatives in 'E-stonia' working to tackle these challenges.

e-stonia.jpg

1. HITSA’s Progetiger Programme

What?

HITSA (The Information Technology Foundation for Education) promotes the use of digital tools in education and supports the formation of highly skilled IT specialists. The Progetiger programme is a public-private partnership with the Ministry of Education and Research. It was launched in 2012 when teaching programming and robotics was introduced to public schools. It has been developed into a technology education programme targeted at engineering sciences, design & technology and information & communication technology (ICT).

Why?

HITSA recognised that the highly digitalised nature of Estonian society is dependent on the existence of digitally aware citizens who are able to use e-services, access the Internet safely and use digital skills in their professional life. This places greater demands on the Estonian educational system. The Progetiger programme was established to ensure digital technology is used for better teaching and learning.

How?

The Progetiger Programme is aimed at preschool, primary and vocational education. It’s core aims are: to integrate technology education into the curriculum, to offer teachers educational resources and training opportunities, and to financially support kindergartens and schools in acquiring different programmable devices.

Outcomes:

The Progetiger program has reached 85 percent of schools and 44 percent of kindergartens in Estonia in five years. Over 830,000 Euros -worth of equipment has been supplied to 446 schools and kindergartens for teaching robotics, programming, 3D modelling and multimedia, and more than 4,100 teachers have participated in Progetiger trainings.

Across most subjects in primary and secondary education, teachers use a number of computer programs and environments such as LEGO WeDo, Kodu Game Lab, and Scratch in their lessons (to name a few). In high school and vocational education, they also teach different programming languages (Python, JavaScript etc), 3D graphics, robotics, programmes to make games, web pages and apps.

2. Vaata Maailma ([email protected] Foundation)

What?

Vaata Maailma, or the [email protected] Foundation, was founded in 2001 by a number of private sector initiatives. It is a project-based organisation that focuses on promoting the safe use of computers and the Internet. This in turn supports education, science and culture in Estonia in order to enhance quality of life.

Why?

The organisation’s goal is to serve the public interest and support the fields of education, science and culture by encouraging and popularising the use of the Internet and ICT.

How?

The organisation’s project areas include: ICT skills; ICT-related hobby education; and safe use of ICT. They have carried out a number of large scale projects, including: SmartAcademy (NutiAcademy), Estonian Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition, NutiKaitse 2017, and SmartLabs, all of which provide digital skills training for adults and school-level children.

Outcomes:

Between 2002-2004, 100 000 people (10% of the Estonian adult population) received basic computer training through the Vaata Maailma training project. This was fully financed by private companies: Swedbank, SEB Bank, Elion and EMT. Between 2009-2011 Vaata Maailma’s training project again offered basic computer training and training in e-services to 102,697 people (more than 10% of the adult population of Estonia).

3. The Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition

What?

The Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition (a project by Vaata Maailma) was initiated by representatives from private companies and nonprofit organisations, including policy makers, e-service providers and IT-training companies. The coalition formed in 2017 and is coordinated by the Vaata Maailma foundation, with the aim of continuing to develop the digital skills of Estonians. All of the coalition partners have extensive experience in digital skills trainings, and have made significant contributions to developing digital skills in Estonia. For example: The Estonian Ministry of Education and Research, Swedbank and Microsoft Estonia, and several others. The coalition is part of the EU wide Digital Skills and Jobs coalition.

Why?

The coalition recognises the digital skills challenges in Estonia, and came together to offer solutions to bridge the digital skills gap in the country. The purpose of their activities is to lower the number of people in Estonia that do not use computers or the Internet from approximately 10% to 5% by 2020.

How?

The members of the coalition carry out activities concentrated on two main target groups within Estonian society: citizens and the labour force. Their focus is on delivering programmes that train large portions of the population in digital skills.

Outcomes:

  • E-citizens project: a total of 5000 people will be trained in basic computer skills from 2018 to 2021.
  • Formation of DigiABC: a project that provides digital skills training for the members of the industrial sector in 2017 to 2020.
  • The initiative’s first project provided free computer training to 10% of the adult population of Estonia. Between 2000 and July 2016, the number of Estonians using the Internet grew from 28.6% to 91.4%.

4. OSKA

What?

OSKA is funded by the European Social Fund. It is a system of applied research surveys that helps training organisations to learn and teach the right skills. OSKA analyses the country’s labour market needs for the next 10 years. Their surveys provide qualitative and quantitative input across all levels of education to assess skills needs in specific sectors of the economy (such as ICT, accounting, health care or agriculture). As a result, they prepare labour market training requirements that improve the relevance of education and training within schools, retraining programmes and in-service training.

Why?

By providing accurate information about Estonia’s labour market opportunities and needs, and the existing skills within the workforce, OSKA supports individuals to make informed choices about what training to undertake, and assists the Estonian government in creating better policies in the key sectors of Estonian society.

How?

OSKA builds cooperative platforms between employers and education providers in order to analyse the development opportunities and needs of different sectors across the Estonian economy. They have a specialised methodology of monitoring, forecasting, and gathering feedback on future labour needs, and prepare ‘labour market training requirements’ as a direct result of their activities. These reports take into account the demand and supply of labour and skills and current demographics

Outcomes:

OSKA have produced a number of highly informative reports exploring future labour market trends and future trends of work. Through this initiative, 23 expert panels consisting of employers, education professionals, visionaries and public sector officials will be formed and 23 sectoral reports will be published by 2020. These panels will issue practical recommendations to decision-makers and stakeholders. An OSKA general report on changes in labour demand, labour market developments and basic trends is published annually for government use. The findings of OSKA surveys are used in career counselling, curriculum development and strategic planning at all levels of education across Estonia.

5. Vali IT!

What?

Vali IT! translates to “Choose IT!”. It is a free, selective, adult retraining program designed to provide participants with basic skills in software development to enter the IT sector. The idea is to give adults the knowledge and skills to find ‘more interesting and better paid jobs’. Candidates for the programme usually have a bachelor’s degree and at least three years in the labour market and must be willing to move into the IT sector upon completion of the programme.

Why?

According to the the OSKA ICT report, Estonia’s labour market needs 2600 to 4,500 professionals with software development skills to join the ICT sector by 2020.

How?

Estonian citizens or permanent residents complete 6 weeks of full-time study at training centers, followed by 8-week internship in companies. They must apply and demonstrate motivation and suitability for the programme. Training takes place in groups of up to 20 participants at specialised centres and is designed to be as practical as possible. It has a rolling registration with courses taking place early in the year and in the summer. The project is funded by the European Social Fund support scheme "Increasing digital literacy".

Outcomes:

The "Choose IT!" Program pilot project started in January 2017, and 38 people were trained, about a third of whom were offered the job as a developer right after the end of the course.

Author

Genna Barnett

Genna Barnett

Genna Barnett

Assistant Programme Manager, Future of Work

Based in Nesta's policy and research team, Genna is the Assistant Programme Manager for a number of projects addressing the impact of technology on work and jobs.

View profile