Singapore and Estonia’s education ministries to partner on curriculum enhancements, AI use in classrooms

By Si Ying Thian

Talks are currently underway between Singapore and Estonia education ministers on a cross-border partnership focusing on sharing best practices and collaborating on policymaking for curriculum development, Estonian Minister of Education Kristina Kallas tells GovInsider.

Weaving 21st century skills into the curriculum, and policymaking around AI use in the classroom are among the key priorities for partnership between Estonian and Singapore's ministries of education, says Estonian Minister of Education, Kristina Kallas. Image: Kristina Kallas.

After having climbed the world education rankings – top in Europe and top eight in the world according to PISA 2022 scores – Estonia’s Ministry of Education (MOE) will next explore cross-border collaborations for education policymaking and curriculum development.


It is setting its sights on partnering with Singapore’s MOE, given their similarity as high-performing education systems. Beyond academic achievement, the challenges for the education sector are increasingly “coming from the outside world,” says Estonian Minister of Education and Research, Kristina Kallas, to GovInsider.


Minister Kallas was part of the 18 delegations led by Ministerial representatives at the 14th International Summit on the Teaching Profession, held from 22 to 24 April 2024, which was hosted by Singapore this year.

Weaving 21st century skills into the curriculum


There is a need to redesign the curriculum and learning processes to account for not only academic knowledge, but 21st century skills, says Minister Kallas.


According to her, 21st century skills include critical thinking, ethical decision-making, communication, team building, diversity, and the capacity to interact across cultures and nations.


This is why cross-cultural partnerships, such as that with Singapore, can address this. For a start, Estonia’s MOE is looking at joint initiatives to bring schoolteachers and principals from both countries to co-create the curriculum.

Framework for 21st Century Competencies and Student Outcomes in Singapore. Image: Singapore's MOE.

“Bringing together Singapore and Estonian education ministers, schools, principals, and teachers will be a learning process on its own.


"It is difficult to teach the kids 21st century skills, like intercultural communication, if teachers have not experienced or learnt it themselves first,” she explains.


Singapore’s MOE introduced its 21st century competencies framework in 2010 to inculcate skills such as self-awareness, critical thinking, and responsible decision-making.


Last year, the framework was revised to emphasise inventive thinking, communication, and civic literacy, reported The Straits Times.


“The question is whether kids need to stay in schools longer to learn these skills, or can we redesign these in the learning process?” Minister Kallas adds.

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Leveraging on respective strengths: STEM-focused Singapore and digital-first Estonia


When it comes to driving a technology-focused education, Singapore and Estonia’s respective strengths in STEM education and digital literacy focus complement one another.

As one of the world's most digitally advanced societies, Estonian Minister Kristina Kallas attributes the high digital competency levels of its students to being immersed a digitally-rich environment from very early on in their social lives. Image: Republic of Estonia government.

Minister Kallas says that the widespread use of technology in Estonian society – rather than technology adoption in schools – explains the high digital competency levels of its students.


Estonia is considered one of the world’s most digitally advanced societies, as GovInsider has covered previously.


“When the civic life around the child is digital, they enter a digitally-rich environment from very early on when they participate in social life.


“It’s not only schools, but the government and civil sector need to be also digitalised. When they can start voting at the age of 16, they vote online. They need digital literacy and trust the system behind it.


“So, this is something that Singapore is very much looking into [emulating]: How Estonia has built this trust in the society around digitalisation,” explains Minister Kallas.


On the other hand, Estonia’s MOE is keen to learn from Singapore’s experience in cultivating its STEM workforce. Having an edge in science and technology enables the Estonian workforce to create innovative tools and solutions.


“We are looking at how Singapore develops basic STEM skills in the children, so that they are interested in choosing the technology path for their careers,” says Minister Kallas.

Estonia’s takeaways on edtech adoption


Training and autonomy go hand in hand when it comes to preparing educators for technology adoption in classrooms. Minister Kallas points to two key interventions by Estonia’s MOE:


One, it requires all teachers to undergo training at the onset to equip them with digital competencies and second, it gives teachers the autonomy to decide on the technology tools they want to use in their classrooms.


“It’s the responsibility of the school district to provide students with the tools. It's in our legal framework - that you cannot expect families to invest in textbooks or iPads if they are not provided free,” she adds.

The Estonian government seeks partnerships with international organisations to support funding to enhance educational infrastructure and teachers' professional development. Image: Reemo Voltri's LinkedIn.

To address resource constraints in implementing these interventions, Reemo Voltri, Chairman of the Estonian Education Personnel Union, tells GovInsider that the Estonian government has sought partnerships with international organisations.


Partnerships, such as with OECD and the European Commission, support funding to enhance the educational infrastructure and teachers’ professional development.


When COVID-19 hit, Estonian schools were able to adjust very quickly to the new normal, as teachers were already trained in digital competencies and knew how to teach with digital tools.


This way, pupils in Estonia reaped the rewards of the Baltic country’s long-term investment in digital learning, The Guardian reported.


“Nobody was sitting in to wait for the ministry to design guidelines, and tell them how they should teach and what they should teach with.


“So, I believe that the reasons for teachers to use digital technologies in the classroom is to first develop their digital skills, and then provide them the autonomy and professional agency to decide how they want to use the technologies in the classrooms,” says Minister Kallas.

Global partnerships to prepare education systems for the advent of AI


Minister Kallas questions if schools are “too late” catching up with the use of AI among students, and hopes that the partnership with Singapore’s MOE can explore how schools can reap the benefits of AI.


“So, how do we integrate and use AI as a teaching assistant for teachers in the learning processes? As policymakers, we are only just debating about how to integrate AI into education, but I think AI is already being used.”


She adds that cross-border partnerships help countries share best practices on leveraging AI for education. Singapore recently introduced its new edtech masterplan, which places more emphasis on using AI to support learning in schools.


“Global education systems can then progress together with AI, and not a situation where some countries are extremely successful, and others completely fail.”

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