The new strategy of the Information Technology Foundation for Education for 2018 – 2020 highlights the importance of evidence-based approach in directing ICT education and technology use and supporting educational institutions in the pursuit of a digital revolution, both with information and know-how as well as modernisation of infrastructure. In developing information systems, we want to pay more attention to the “big picture” and the improvement of interaction between different information systems. HITSA is a substantive and technical innovative partner and a collaborative network provider for Estonian educational and research institutions bringing together the top experts of Estonia and providing a neutral and professional cooperation platform for discussions. The task of HITSA is also to introduce and disseminate Estonian experience to the international community.
Education, analysis, monitoring
“The main task of the strategy is to ensure that the right things are done in the organization. The small issues of everyday work often tend to take a lot of time, keeping an eye at the wider picture belongs to the work of each leader. The strategy will help to do that,“ said chairperson of the management board of HITSA, Heli Aru-Chabilan. “Strategic discussions with partners showed that there is a clear need for this type of technology agency in Estonia, who follows the big picture, brings together different partners and offers a neutral discussion space.”
What will change in HITSA activities in the near future and how do these changes affect the Estonian educational landscape?
Just during the period, when we discussed the lines of action of HITSA, a World Bank report was published that compared the activities of HITSA-like technology agencies. Our core tasks are very similar to other similar agencies in the world. It also cannot be said that after adoption of the strategy, HITSA is a totally different enterprise. But some priorities are, though, new. For example, HITSA has for years offered training to teachers and school leaders on the principle that we are trying to make teachers use technology more effectively, try to explain the importance of technology. The universities have also acted similarly on their refresher courses, as well as he private sector. Universities use their own lecturers as trainers, we use actual teachers-trainers and it has been considered as a strength and great value of HITSA training. Now we would like to switch to more team-based training, as major changes depend on the team, not just a single teacher. First and foremost, we want to provide training for those schools where the use of digital technology has so far been more passive.
The second important new moment includes leaders to who we would like to offer developing activities. Our target group will involve people who are leaders in the technology use in Estonia, who bring new ICT tools into the studies and also encourage colleagues to use them.
The new direction in HITSA activities is more systematic monitoring of technological trend developments so that we can become more aware of what is happening in the ICT sector here and in the world. We try to put together a panel of experts. We want to get a more precise overview of what is done in the centres of excellence of science and technology in Estonian universities, how their activities could affect the educational system in the future.
HITSA is the spokesperson of the smarter use of technology. We follow what kind of new “technology widgets” have entered the market, test them and let the schools know about these. The widget for the widget will not change the world. Use of technology in practical studies is important. Let's focus of classroom scenarios: when we announce a new tool then it is immediately accompanied by the classroom scenario to test in the class.
Teachers are the key players. The use of technology is not a complementary obligation to the teacher, technology helps to save time and simplify work. Unfortunately, many teachers do not see an opportunity for simpler work in technology and we obviously have to deal with these attitudes.
If we want to use people who are active in the ICT sector as teachers or circle leaders, we need to approach them through schools. The association and interest are most likely to arise when own child goes to school. This means agreements with employers for people who contribute to the benefit of schools beside their main job. I hope that the companies support that kind of initiatives and allow their employees to act as coachers and teachers in schools.
We will continue to implement the IT Academy programme in the coming years as well. Here, the new moments include opening support measures for the development of digital skills in professional training institutions and launching the considerable support measure for the preferential development of ICT research. Regarding ICT research, the state has undertaken to support the sector with an additional three million euros per year until 2022.
Important part in the work of HITSA is introducing Estonian experience to foreign delegations. Many foreign visitors ask where to Estonia is heading? We would like to discuss abuot the future of ICT in Estonia together with the community.
The strategy also talks about further training of ICT in our schools. What does the ICT further training mean?
Under that, we mean that the informatics studies would be available in all educational institutions. The HITSA vision also says that by 2020, information and communication technology studies are available in all Estonian educational institutions. One thing is general digital competence of students that for the purpose of the state curriculum means one of the eight general competencies. Our focus is more narrowly aimed at developing the curriculum for informatics syllabus. It is important to think how this discipline could be made available at school level, what can be actually done in Estonia's life so that the students who want to obtain further training in informatics could also get it. Yes, we know that there is lack of teachers, lack of study materials and lack of money. We have to start untangling these problems from somewhere.
Let’s dream a bit. What do you think what has been improved in Estonian education by 2020, when the HITSA strategy has been implemented?
Two things have changed by 2020 – I hope that informatics studies are actually carried out in more schools than now, and there is an opportunity to teach informatics in all schools. And secondly, that the activities of HITSA in importing technology innovations and searching the evidence-based examples that the technology provides for the learning process would have reached more teachers. I hope that the digital competency in the broadest sense is more even than it is today and the role of HITSA as the importer of innovations is stronger in three years than it is now.
Information systems and infrastructure
Development of information systems and infrastructures have an important part in the strategic activities of HITSA for 2018-2020. HITSA provides educational institutions with the necessary IT services to study, teach and organise work; the development and stable functioning of the optical backbone network and central services required for higher education and research.
What will change in HITSA activities with regard to the information systems and infrastructure and how do these changes affect the Estonian educational landscape?
Manager of EENet infrastructure, Kristina Lillemets: The development of the optimum required optical backbone network and the smooth functioning of central services for higher education and research have the priority. The importance of national as well as international cooperation has only grown with the years and our aim is to ensure the necessary infrastructure for the smooth operation of research groups. This means the valuation of long-term planning so that the necessary investments and development are ensured.
In a world where data leaks and identity thefts put stronger emphasis on electronic identity that could be used safely and conveniently, the TAAT and HarID evolved from EENet are of priceless value. Ensuring secure and convenient access to both Estonian as well as foreign learning assets and environment extends opportunities for everybody – from professors leading the research groups to students compiling their term papers.
HITSA is also responsible for functioning of a number of important information systems which must be available to users when they need them, and in a manner appropriate to them. Potential problems and questions need to be resolved quickly.
Head of the Development Centre for Information Systems, Evelin Kaseõmm: Strategic priorities are primarily related to improving the integrity and interoperability of IT services, which in particular means interfacing of different systems and establishment of automatic data exchange.
Second, in our area of responsibility, we pay attention to the expansion of services and the user community so that more educational institutions across educational levels could get effective support from our solutions for conducting study processes and managing everyday work.
Third, we consider it important to develop capabilities of high quality data and analytics to support the evidence-based decision-making process and dissemination of best practices.
IT services should support implementation of the digital revolution, be user-friendly and independent of equipment. Large-scale development works are in particular associated with complementing and deploying the study information systems across the educational levels for 2018 –2020; creating a repository and digital learning material sharing service, and refresher training information system and HarID projects of an authentication solution. We also continue improvement of the admission information system, study environment Moodle, plagiarism detection software, contest web and Echo360 that is designed for recording lectures. We continue with outsourcing the information system for enrolment of foreigners and plagiarism detection URKUND as a full service. We aggregate and describe the development needs of the study information system for professional schools.
Consolidation of ICT base services is primarily a long-term collaboration project to organise the ICT base infrastructure of the administrative area of the Ministry of Education and Research, and to harmonise the quality of services. In this process, we also see the educational institutions of the local government as participants.
What do you think what has been improved in Estonian education by 2020, when the HITSA strategy has been implemented?
Manager of EENet infrastructure, Kristina Lillemets: By 2020, we have certainly reached more than half of Estonian schools with modernisation of local area networks of compulsory schools in Estonia. This means that the whole school, not only the computer class, can take advantage of the internet connection with a speed of up to 1 Gbps. We will see that due to the growing role of digital learning materials and tools, the network infrastructure will not become a bottleneck.
Changing a number of provided services is also unavoidable. Some services will be terminated, but several will become more modern. The user comfort of our services is increasing as well as the ability to integrate services or their elements (computation and storage resources). There is a lot of planning and alignment at end-user’s simplicity and convenience, but the resources that are contributed to this will come back as the time saved by users, in the ability to contribute more time to what is important for them.
Head of the Development Centre for Information Systems, Evelin Kaseõmm: I hope that by 2020, the number of users of ICT services that support the work processes in our education is 15% higher and they are 0.2% (5-point scale) more satisfied compared to today. I believe that this has involved effective use of resources and less manual work and mistakes in the duplicate insertion of data into several different systems.