Estonia has been providing career services online (via telephone, e-mail and Skype) for several years as an alternative to person-to-person meetings, so maintaining a certain level of provision was less of a challenge (Holland and Mann, 2020). It is a way to overcome obstacles that prevent people from reaching PES offices and to provide guidance to those who wish to remain anonymous. While physical meetings are mostly preferred by both clients and counsellors, preparing the PES’s counsellors to move their work online has now proved its necessity. While the coronavirus pandemic has closed all PES offices until the end of the crisis (which is currently undefinable), Estonians are still able to access high-quality guidance services. As in the case with guidance delivered in education settings, employed adults seeking individualised support on career development can schedule a meeting on the PES self-service portal for counselling via Skype video or telephone. Receiving guidance via e-mail or Microsoft Teams (which is used for both individual and group consultations) are also available options.
Currently, no large educational policy changes are planned neither long- nor short-term. One exception is an amendment to the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act that is currently under discussion in the Parliament. The aim of this amendment is to provide flexibility in organising the final examinations and if necessary, providing a possibility to graduate from both basic school and upper secondary school without final exams (except for two Upper Secondary Schools exams that will be voted by the Government on 16.04). The second amendment concerns the students’ assessment during an emergency. Schools are encouraged to use descriptive verbal assessments rather than numerical to better adapt to remote learning. The amendment to the law creates an opportunity in all three basic school stages and upper secondary schools to use descriptive verbal assessments (without the need of converting them to a five-point scale), during the emergency period, based on the school curriculum. Schools may also use the descriptive verbal assessments in the summative assessment, i.e. in the presentation of quarterly, semester, course and annual grades.
In the current emergency, the role of the Ministry of Education and Research is to provide teachers, heads of schools, students, parents and the public with information on examinations, assessment and graduation. Different institutions provide supportive guidelines and information on how to organise remote learning for different target groups. The ministry provides advice to different interest groups with the aim of supporting student’s well-being, while teachers, heads of schools and parents have all been approached separately. In general, the ministry has recommended that currently more emphasis should be laid on the development of general competences such as communication, as well as social and civic competences. The Ministry of Education and Research is providing and regularly updating information, including guidelines to parents, teachers and school managers, on coronavirus measures in the education system (in English).
For several years, digital competence has been prioritised as one of the most critical competences in Estonia. Therefore, many supportive materials have already been developed in digital form. In addition, there are several online platforms to facilitate communication between schools/teachers, students and parents such as e-school, stuudium, etc. In general education, the majority of the learning materials are both on paper and online and students have access to online-based study materials (e-schoolbag; opiq.ee; hitsa.ee; foxcademy.com, etc.).
Schools and municipalities have also provided the equipment needed for ensuring learning and teaching. There are community-based initiatives that bring people in need and donors together, such as the Facebook group “Every Computer for Schoolchildren”. A positive fact is that the private sector is active in supporting schools and in cooperation with the public sector organises free webinars to assist educators in achieving the best possible results. Currently, companies like 99math.com, Lingvist.com, Clanbeat.com, Speakly.me, ALPA Kids, and DreamApply.com have joined the initiative to offer their solutions for free. The list of tools that are internationally available may be accessed here: http://education-nation.99math.com/.
Schools have also sent clear instructions to students and their parents on how to organise their remote learning, as well as contact details from which parents may find further information. For example, parents and teachers may find help for solving problems, related to e-learning, in the website of the Information Technology Foundation for Education’s (HITSA). Additionally, a public Facebook group, “Home-Based teaching through technology”, has been set up to support teachers and seek advice from educational technologists if needed. Parents and education enthusiasts created a Facebook group “Remote learning at home” (in Estonian) in order to bring parents and educators together, provide support to each other, help tackle problems and share success stories related to remote learning.
Foundation Innove has put together a series of practical webinars (in Estonian) for the heads of schools in order to help them lead their team better and ensure effective communication during this emergency. Teachers are supported with different materials (in Estonian and in English) regarding the development of assessment guidelines, tips on how to organise remote learning and how to use different digital platforms. Parents are supported with advice (in Estonian) on how to help organise remote learning and maintain mental health. Special attention has been paid to parents with children with SEN (information and materials in Estonian). The Rajaleidja (direct translation is Pathfinder) network provides free educational counselling to adults who support children with SEN in education –parents, teachers, support specialists, etc.– through video chat, online chat, email and phone on workdays 09:00-17:00. In addition, managers of the Rajaleidja provide advice to schools on how to organise remote learning for students who need extra support. A citizens' initiative Tagasi Kooli (direct translation – Back to School) is organising online guest lectures that give students the opportunity to develop a variety of general competences such as money wisdom, media literacy, healthy eating, digital wisdom and more (in Estonian). The Estonian Youth Work Centre’s Teeviit (direct translation – Signpost) webpage gathers information for youth on how to cope with the period of emergency (in Estonian and Russian).
Support systems in vocational education institutions are reorganised and offered via virtual platforms. The results of the study in VET schools, carried out from 2-6 of April 2020, pointed out that the personnel’s workload has grown remarkably. Support and guidance concerning studies, has been offered by group leaders, teachers, social pedagogues and psychologists working at school level. Regular phone calls and several online platforms, apart from the e-school systems mentioned earlier, have been used such as Zoom, GoogleMeet, FB messenger, FaceTime etc. Students with special educational needs are at greater risk as their digital competences and access to technology might be hampered. However, all teachers, IT managers, support personnel and educational technologists of the VET institutions offer digital aid where needed. In addition, webinars to share Estonian positive experiences within the crisis are published by Education Nation Facebook channel on a regular basis.
Where there is evidence of a reduced spread of the COVID-19 virus, the Minister of Education and Research eases the restrictions on the activities of educational institutions from June 1st to the end of the school year, but in a freer format (including the development of communication, values, social and civic competences, conducting development interviews, organising study days, etc.). These activities will only be permitted if the overall safety of students can be assured. The Estonian Ministry of Education and Research recommends schools to monitor students’ progress and to provide tutoring as needed, either individually or in small groups.
In Estonia, the Unemployment Insurance Fund, a public employment service (PES), provides career guidance services free of charge to everyone, regardless of age or economic activity. COVID-19 has made face-to-face contacts impossible, but different online tools are being used to continue providing support at a time when it is needed most. However, the Estonian experience reveals that having only one remote channel as a solution (i.e. providing services only via telephone) might not provide clients with enough choices that would take into account their varied abilities, skills and infrastructure and provide access to all users. Therefore, PES provided Microsoft Teams as an additional channel for individual and group career counselling.
Education Nation. https://education-nation.99math.com/
Hariduse Infotehnoloogia Sihtasutus (HITSA). https://www.hitsa.ee/
Holland, K. & Mann, A. (2020). How Estonia is delivering online career guidance during the coronavirus crisis. OECD Education and Skills Today. https://oecdedutoday.com/estonia-online-career-guidance-during-coronavirus-crisis/
Innove (2020). Haridusjuhtidele tulekul uus ja praktiline veebiseminaride sari. https://www.innove.ee/uudis/toimuvad-praktilised-veebiseminarid-haridusjuhtidele/
Innove (2020). Info, advice and materials for teachers for organizing distance learning. https://www.innove.ee/en/blog/information-advice-and-materials-for-teachers/
Innove (2020). Info, nõuanded ja materjalid õpetajatele distantsõppe korraldamiseks. https://www.innove.ee/blogi/info-nouanded-ja-materjalid-opetajatele-distantsoppe-korraldamiseks/
Innove (2020). Uus video pakub distantsõppe ajal lapsevanematele emotsionaalset tuge. https://www.innove.ee/uudis/uus-video-pakub-eriolukorra-ajal-lapsevanematele-emotsionaalset-tuge/
Innove Rajaleidja (2020). Aga mina olen teadlik vanem. https://rajaleidja.innove.ee/aga-mina-olen-teadlik-vanem/
Kodune distantsõpe. https://www.facebook.com/groups/519014048634211/about/
Ministry of Education and Research (2020). Spread of COVID-19: recommendations for educational institutions, parents, students. https://www.hm.ee/en/spread-covid-19-recommendations-educational-institutions
Tagasi Kooli (n.d.). E-külalistunnid. https://registreeru.tagasikooli.ee/ekulalistunnid/
Teeviit (n.d.). Eriolukord riigis – mida teha? kuhu pöörduda küsimustega?. https://www.teeviit.ee/mida-teha-kui-on-eriolukord-riigis/