‘E-stonia’ and digital around the world

23-May-2013

One of the perks of my job is that I get to travel – visiting customers, giving training or attending and speaking at conferences. It’s not only nice to get out of the office once in a while but it gives me the chance to speak to teachers, directors of studies and other interesting people as well as get an idea of what is actually happening in the countries we work with, from different kinds of schools and systems, cultural variations and the way things work in general. Some of my colleagues get to travel even further afield and bring back interesting stories about what they’ve found out (as well as biscuits, chocolate and cakes with strange names – always a bonus).

Working with digital, one thing that sometimes surprises me is how far different countries have embraced the online revolution – particularly when it comes to education. Switzerland (sorry to the Swiss) is a good example – as a developed and affluent country, it is behind its European neighbours. Other countries display unexpected signs of real innovation when it comes to using digital in education. Macmillan English Campus celebrated its first customer in Algeria last month – Albayan Academy in Batna is a state of the art school where English is taught to a wide range of students keen to improve. Some schools in some newly-prosperous Middle Eastern countries are even equipping their students with their own tablets.

This got me wondering. Is it because teachers in more developed countries have long had an established tradition of paper and CD-ROMs embedded in their minds? Or because developing countries are keen to speed up the learning process and spend more on education in order to compete in an English-dominated globalised world? Or is it something entirely different?
Estonia is one perhaps unexpected beacon in terms of pushing digital in all aspects of life – so much so, it’s been dubbed “e-stonia” by some – in the same style as e-mail and e-learning. This small Baltic state is now considered to be in the top-ten for successful business startups and many of them are digitally focussed. Including, you may be surprised to hear, one of the most widely used communication tools – Skype, invented in Tallinn. And if you’re looking for some Skype ideas in the classroom, have a look at these tips.

Children in Estonia are introduced to the internet and online platforms from an early age. Could this be the key to incorporating digital learning in the classroom? And could it work for other countries? The President of this small nation was willing to take the risk of reforming education and public services to aim for a digital future to compete with the rest of the world while realising that it would take time for people to get used to it. But then again, adults are also already used to voting online and accessing their health records via the internet, so maybe that’s not the real key.

Obviously there’s no right or wrong answer but it’s something that intrigues me when I am out and about talking about Macmillan English Campus, Macmillan Practice Online and onestopenglish, and it would be great to hear what you think so leave a comment below.

Peter

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