Estonia’s first weeks of distance learning are over. The initial anxiety is over, learning and teaching systems are starting to develop, and lesson plans have gone full circle. Four general education teachers write what the challenges and advantages of the new school system are.
Students are learning how to actually work with a computer.
Karel Alliku, English teacher at Pärnu Tammsaare school
“What does the transition to e-learning teach us? I think it’s trust. The teacher is not standing next to the student and doesn’t notice every mistake the student does. If we manage this situation well, we will be able to raise self-directed students who are ready to take responsibility for their actions and who have the courage to make mistakes. We learn best through mistakes, and that is where human creativity opens up. We get the opportunity to really develop students’ digital literacy, much more than a few hours in the schools’ computer class and the time spent on the phone clicking on “press here” do.
Today, students need to be able to email their teacher, fill out a Google Drive document, add classmates to a Skype chat, and understand why it is even more important to follow the “one talks, others listen” principle in online chat. The world of students is opening up and they are actually getting familiar with the digital world.”
The education system gets a worthwhile lesson for the future.
Helen Altin-Ilves, Engilsh teacher at Tartu Erakool’s Peedu school
“At first it seems to me that we are beginning to appreciate our everyday classroom where we can all be together. I already miss my students, talking with them, and the hugs you get at the end of the class. I have heard similar thoughts from other teachers, and not surprisingly from some students too. After all we are social beings and we need each other, even if we do not always show it.
Certainly, the current situation will improve the digital literacy of many teachers, and it will force them out of their comfort zone. It undoubtedly also highlights each school’s readiness for such an unexpected situation. I am sure that all schools will reflect on how they did as things go back to normal. For this reason, feedback from students and parents is important – don’t miss it, colleagues!
The impact on the future is currently difficult to assess. I think we need to look beyond technological solutions and analyze if we, as a society, would be ready for such a form of learning, should the need for it arise again.”
The value of humans is rising
Maarja-Liisa Vokksepp, Gustav Adolf Gymnasium’s Estonian language and literature teacher
“On a large scale, today’s home schooling is a good lesson on functional reading and time scheduling, but above all learning to learn. I believe that this crisis situation teaches us how to use technology more purposefully in normal school life, but above all, it teaches that every person, classmate, schoolmate, teacher, other school worker has an immeasurable value. I liked a though from one of my high school students. “Life played a trick on us so we wouldn’t take anything for granted. Let’s value people! Everyone! It’s much nicer to communicate face to face. I think that many of us don’t even want to see a computer after distance learning ends. We’d rather be side by side with classmates, laughing, feeling a sense of unity in the classroom, reading a book and pointing out that textbook and workbook tasks are not so bad after all. I doubt I will hear “Let’s do a Kahoot” in any classroom any time soon.
Distance learning is not possible without technology, but the realization that technology does not have to be used for the sake of technology should reach every classroom. I think we will have a mutual understanding that, even though it may be difficult, school is actually a very nice place. Maybe we will feel more exitement when it’s time to return.”
The importance of e-learning will eventually become clear
Ilona Säälik, head teacher of General Subjects and teacher of Finnish at Tallinn School of Service
“I’ve been an e-learning enthusiast for over a decade. I have worked as an educational technologist, I’ve been a trainer of e-learning environment Moodle and I have done distance school training for teachers. There have always been teachers who don’t want to do these trainings, who I’ve had to convince that digital literacy is essential to life today, and that all teachers need it.
School leaders and those responsible for teaching have been seemingly in favor of e-learning, but actual practices and opportunities to implement it haven’t been established. It has been more like a hobby for some teachers. We are now struggling with the inability of teachers and the lack of students’ e-learning skills.
Currently, the teachers who have done the groundwork and self-training and who have e-learning materials and favorite environments rule. Others, unfortunately, are confused, overworked and stressed. I would like to say “I told you so!”, but actually we need to figure out how to better support teachers. Teachers are quite autonomous in their work and they have the freedom to choose their own methods. But if you have a basic understanding of a topic, you may not have the skill to choose. We should help set boundaries and be supportive of each other.
I certainly don’t think all learning is effective in distance school, but our role as teachers is to teach our students digital skills to cope with the changing world. Despite this I’m very glad that this time of forced development has been given to us. We have done more in a week than we have in several years. My personal wish is that we don’t stop here, that the development that’s being done doesn’t come to a halt and that everybody doesn’t fall back to their comfort zone when the crisis ends. Fortunately, Estonian teachers can manage and adapt quickly.”