Estonia sets an example in the information technology. What could be learnt from this Baltic country?
Professor Robert Krimmer, TTÜ Ragnar Nurkse Department of Innovation and Governance was interviewed by T3N magazine.
Programming is taught in elementary school and the income tax return is submitted via Internet. Estonia has become an example in Europe with its digital solutions. What could be learnt from this Baltic state?
“I have the best job in the world – I can play with Lego blocks every day,“ Rasmus Kits smiles happily. A man in a multi-coloured striped pullover folds his arms and watches from behind his desk the hubbub in front of him. Eight-nine-year old kids are bustling around the table: they take the Lego blocks from the box, and glancing at their iPads from time to time construct something from the blocks. When it is ready, they come for new blocks.
An activity that seems like playing is actually learning. Kits works as a teacher at the Tallinn Secondary School No 21, which is the biggest school in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. He teaches robotics to the third grade. The kids themselves make small robots from the blocks. “For them, it is just a game,“ the teacher says, looking at his pupils. But at the same time, they also learn programming. And not by the text but by the picture. They look at the pictures in their tablet computers about how to build a robot, so that it would work.
Estonia: e-learning in the elementary education
In Estonia it is everyday common practice that already schoolchildren make experiments with equipment. The state contributes to e-learning already from the elementary school. The children have to understand what to notice in the web, or how an application works. The motto: Digital first. This principle is followed not in the education policy only, this can be seen everywhere in Estonia.
99% of the country’s territory is covered with wireless Internet, the governing is paper-free and in administrative agencies, all the matters can be arranged with an ID card. Even foreigners can apply for the Estonian citizenship as e-residents and use the benefits of the bureaucratic procedures without red tape. With such approach, Estonia is known as a pioneer of the digital field in whole Europe. It is not bad for a state, the population of which is the same as in Munich.
Those who want to know why this Baltic country has outpaced big countries, should consider visiting Robert Krimmer. The Austrian is sitting in his office, located in southern part of Tallinn. There are books on the shelves and many packs of Manner sweets, but on the desk, there is a computer and a stack of papers. Krimmer works as a professor of e-government at the Tallinn University of Technology and his main field of research is the development of a digital state. “In Estonia, people do not consider new things impossible, as it happens in Germany,“ says the scientist. Here the digital solutions are tested first. Intervention takes place only then if such solution does not work as it should.
One example is the electronic ID card. It enables to arrange any matter in Estonia via Internet. Here people can submit a digital income tax return, extend a driving license, vote electronically and even conclude contracts. Fraud should be almost impossible in the case of digital identification. When describing its advantages, Estonians readily like to give as an example the case histories of the Estonian politician Edgar Savisaar and the F1 racer Michael Schumacher.
Savisaar was hospitalised in 2015 and some of the doctors examined his medical record, although they did not have the right to do that. By the ID card, it was possible to identify the unauthorised viewers and punish them. Also Schumacher’s case history was disclosed but it was not possible to find the offender. What is meant by that? “Retaining only on paper does not mean that the data cannot be misused,“ explains Krimmer.
Estonia and the ID card problems
Before the local elections it turned out that using only electronic services has also its shortcomings. The ID card's security leak reached the front pages of several publications in the world. Through this leak, the hackers could theoretically access the data of 760,000 persons. The Estonian officials calmed people down: Not a single case of data theft has been detected. When there was still no solution found by November, the government temporarily froze the web functions of the ID card.
Despite that, Estonians kept their system. Robert Krimmer has a simple justification for that: The ones who rush to speak about the IT application, although they have not tried it themselves, should consider before, what all can go wrong. “But the one who decides to try the IT applications, usually understands the benefits,“ claims the professor. That is also the attitude in Estonia. Although the ID cards can be attacked, they are also very useful in everyday life.
This principle is also taken as the basis with which the children get acquainted in the robotics class of Rasmus Kits. Learning by doing. This is the principle that also other countries could learn from Estonia.