Trying new things in education in Estonia — getting the education fund off the ground

I was in the 11th grade at high school, (junior year equivalent in the US) when I got a part time job as a software engineer. It was 1997 and the internet was just starting to take off, so I started working a bit for a friend’s company which was building homepages. Thanks Sten for hiring me back then. Of course, this resulted in a few skipped classes, but it also forced me to grow in other areas and overall made me a much more responsible human being.

After high school, I went to study computer science at Tallinn Technical University, but that didn’t go so well for me. As I continued working in tech, I realised that that was what really motivated me, and I found myself visiting the campus less and less. When we started building Skype in 2002 that felt like an even bigger learning; we set out to see if and how we could change how people communicate and so I dropped out from University (technically it was the school that initiated the breakup…). Learning was still something very important for me so later I “fixed” this by spending a year at INSEAD in Singapore which resulted in a master’s degree of business administration.

While my journey has not been so typical, the various touch points I had with education have definitely left their marks on me and as such I wish everyone had more access to better educational experiences. Especially the ones at a younger age which are crucial. This summer I was discussing education in Estonia with Martin from Taxify and it turns out that we both shared similar concerns and ideas.

Estonia ranks high in PISA ranking scores, but if you dig deeper you see quite a few cracks. The teachers in Estonia are currently the oldest in OECD countries and younger generations aren’t applying to be teachers. For some reason society doesn’t seem to attribute the credit to teachers that they deserve. Certainly, the way we reimburse and support teachers is one problem, but not the only issue. Some schools are managed really well (and it starts with a great leader as headmaster or headmistress), but many are not. Should the head of a school be the equivalent of a great CEO with similar skills? Unfortunately it feels that many are currently stuck at the job for life with no ambition for change. I hope to be proven wrong :)

Besides teachers and heads there’s a lot more where we can do better. What if every high school graduate had some entrepreneurial experiences? While not everyone needs to be an entrepreneur (some should be teachers too!) you learn an awful lot while trying. In addition to classic literature and languages, shouldn’t we also be able to speak a bit of Python or Ruby? And had a go at building a robot or two? Given how technology is quickly expanding into all areas of our lives, it’s important that from a young age, children can learn STEAM skills as part of the school curriculum.

Yes, it’s easy to point fingers and criticise. It’s much harder to change something for the better. But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, after all we built TransferWise after many experiments. We should also try more things in education. TransferWise is already working to solve the challenge of encouraging youngsters take up of tech and engineering subjects in Estonia through our support of Eesti 2.0, and now myself, alongside Kristo, TransferWise, Martin, Taxify and 30 other entrepreneurs from Estonia have set up a fund of one million euros to try out a few things related to education in Estonia. The folks over at Good Deed foundation have an excellent track record at helping things get off the ground so we partnered with them to launch the Good Deed (Heateo Sihtasutus) Education Fund to help tackle some of the problems head on.

That was the easy part. Now, the challenge is finding and helping the projects that will have a transformative impact in Estonia, and help support our future generation of successes.

Read more here

Co-founder & Chairman @TransferWise

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store