Cooperation with Estonia provides motivation
Norway | Author: Unni Sørensen
"I needed new motivation, that’s why I applied for going to Tallinn. I wanted a boost to get through the school year", says Ida Marie Jegteberg. She’s in Media Studies at Årstad Upper Secondary School in Bergen.
Did it give you a boost?
"Yes, my stay in Tallinn has been very rewarding. I’ve become more positive. I learned a lot. We were in the studio at school and learned a lot about TV-production. We also visited an Estonian TV-channel and got to see how they work in the studio. It was very exciting."
Årstad Upper Secondary School and Tallinn Polytechnic School are cooperating with support from Nordplus Junior. The program supports mobility for pupils and teachers. Eight Norwegian pupils and two teachers visited Tallinn for two weeks in March. In April, the roles were reversed, when eight Estonian pupils and two teachers visited Bergen. This arrangement applies to pupils in their second year who are studying electronics or media.
"The two weeks in Tallinn were very busy", Ida Marie says.
"There was always something to do: bowling, playing pool, going to the movies, walking around town. Everything’s so cheap in Tallinn, so we ate out every day. The days went by so fast. We became a close-knit group. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. We really got to experience the culture, live in people’s homes, and go to school. That’s very different from going there for a weekend as a tourist and only see the tourist attractions."
Great learning outcomes
"There is no greater reward for a teacher than motivated and grateful pupils. This is something I often experience in connection with our student exchanges with Tallinn: Our pupils become more motivated, their sense of empowerment grows. They get recharged for further studies and subjects", says Arne Hessevik.
Hessevik is a superintendent and teacher of Electronic Studies at Årstad Secondary School. He has been a part of the Norwegian-Estonian Nordplus-cooperation from the start, and has visited Tallinn three times.
"As teachers, we also become more motivated. There is something about breaking away from your daily routine, traveling and experiencing something different. I have visited schools in several countries, but there is something about student exchange that is unique. You get a deeper understanding of the conditions, how others are doing, how they work and what they think. What are their thoughts on pedagogy, subjects, and management? There is a lot we stand to benefit from", Hessevik believes.
"Academically, the Estonians are definitely not lagging behind Norway", he assures us. "Materials and equipment are very similar to the ones used in Norway."
Tallinn Polytechnic School is a large vocational school with 1,200 pupils. It is the country’s largest and best school for studying electronics. Our students probably have some trouble with following their theoretical teaching. It may well be that the Norwegian pupils have the greatest learning outcome overall. Everything’s so easy in Norway, there’s always a safety net that will catch you. There’s a harsher reality in Estonia.
Positive language learning experience
All communication is in English.
"It’s so educational to get to speak English for two whole weeks, both for us teachers and for the pupils. Many of our pupils struggle with languages and theory, many hate English as a subject. But they get a completely different language development by practicing in their field while also having to practice their English", says Hessevik.
"This provides them with a positive experience of learning the language and yields great benefits for them", says Hessevik. He envisions that they should become even better at linking the exchanges to English and Social Studies, which is also on the curriculum for pupils studying electronics.
Presentation of Estonia
Thursday morning, and it’s teeming with pupils in auditorium B at Årstad Upper Secondary School. The eight Estonian second-graders who have been visiting the school for two weeks, are doing a presentation about their country, school system, and school. They all speak English very well.
"We learn that the highest mountain in Estonia is only 318 meters tall: «Just a small hill for you Norwegians». We get to see a photo of their parliament: «Where our politicians ‘work’»", says Gianni Delfino, who is studying electronics. He makes quotation marks with his fingers and reaps laughs from the audience. The pupils open for questions from the audience.
"Is it possible to rent a car in Estonia?", a first-grader cautiously asks.
Hooked on mountains
After the presentations, I reel in three of the Estonian pupils in order to learn more about their experiences after two weeks in Bergen. Gianni Delfino is studying electronics and has this to say:
"I applied to come here because I wanted to broaden my horizons. I like to meet new people. I knew nothing about Norway before I came here, but I had heard about the beautiful nature, and wanted to see it with my own eyes."
Gianni and his friends have become hooked on the mountains around Bergen, which they have mounted several times. And they like Norwegians.
"Everyone is so nice and friendly here. I feel welcome everywhere. Total strangers care about us. In Estonia, we are less open to foreigners. We could learn from Norway and other countries that are more open-minded", says Gianni.
Too much freedom at school
"The school system here has too much freedom", Mart Hendrik Kalev Diener, who’s studying Media, comments. "Many pupils are wasting their time doing nothing".
"The Norwegian school sees the pupils as adults and says:‘Do schoolwork if you want’. In Estonia we are followed closely and pushed", Gianni explains.
"In Estonia we have to take school seriously and work hard. Because we don’t have good systems for unemployment benefits like in Norway", says Andre Kirsi, who is studying automatics. Also he has been fascinated by Norwegian nature, but also by something else.
"Norwegian women are so beautiful. Even older women dress nice and hold up well. That’s something you don’t often see in Estonia", says Andre. The others nod in agreement.
All three of them have learned a few phrases in Norwegian. Otherwise, they have been speaking English, which has been important for their language development, they tell us. All three of them could imagine returning here to work once they’ve finished school.
Was a bit skeptical
What were the biggest differences between Norway and Estonia, do you think, Ida Marie Jegteberg?
"The differences weren’t as big as we thought. I thought they would be much poorer than they actually turned out to be. People were friendly and hospitable. Older people’s English was not so good, but the pupils speak really good English, and we’ve become very good friends."
Ida Marie laughs a little when she thinks back at the time before she went. She was a little skeptical, even though she’d decided to apply early.
"Yes, I was a bit skeptical. I’ve learned: Don’t judge people based on where they’re from."
Also Harald Kjellevold, who is studying electronics, spent two weeks in Tallinn in March.
"I wanted to be part of this in order to experience a new country. I tried to learn as much Estonian as possible. I still have a note filled with simple words and sentences. I sat in on some classes that were taught in English. We also visited several electric companies, and hydropower plants. It was very informative", says Harald.
He noticed that the school system was a little different.
"It’s much stricter there. If you’re late for class, the door might be locked. But otherwise, the school was very similar to ours, and their equipment was good", he says.
Grow as individuals through cooperation
"The Norwegian school system has more freedom. In Estonia we are stricter, follow the pupils closely and push them. We still use a rather old-fashioned pedagogy, and use traditional methods like catheter teaching. In Norway, there’s a lot of project work, which we find inspiring. Academically speaking, this is what we learn the most from: learning about different kinds of project work", says Helen Pärk. She’s assistant principal at Tallinn Polytechnic School.
"It’s good to see how well the pupils are working together. They really grow as individuals as a result of this cooperation", says teacher of Media Studies, Marge Robam.
"It’s a real eye-opener for them to get to travel and cooperate with pupils in other countries", says Helen Pärk.
At Årstad Upper Secondary School, the exchange is organized under the subject called «Project in-depth study», in the second and third year. Arne Hessevik says that the school is trying out some learning objectives and that they want to have a more comprehensive evaluation of the pupils who take part in the project: general attitudes, go-getter attitude, and neatness.
The teachers who are travelling abroad have a half day long training session. The pupils attend the lessons and get to go on company visits.
All of this is informative and exciting for the pupils. Not the least the social aspect, meeting other pupils in a different culture, a new country. Because although many of these 16- and 17-year-olds can come across as tough, they’re actually insecure. The aspect of travelling abroad and living with an Estonian family seems a bit scary to them. We see that they form good social bonds both within the group of Norwegian pupils and with the Estonian pupils. Several of them have gone on summer vacation to visit their Estonian friends afterwards. This student exchange provides them with good social training and a sense of empowerment.
Nordplus junior is an education program supporting cooperation in the kindergarten and school sectors in the Nordic and Baltic countries, founded by the Nordic Council of Ministers.
The program provides, for example, support for mobility for pupils and teachers, as well as project- and network-cooperation.
The aim of Nordplus junior is to strengthen and develop cooperation, as well as creating a network of kindergartens, primary schools and secondary schools from the participating countries, which will lead to increased development of quality and renewal in the sector.