In Tallinn, Estonia, Birgy Lorenz, an expert in cyber-security, teaches third-year students theories and techniques of hacking. The goal: to help future citizens and professionals adapt to the realities of a digital world where cybersecurity is a major issue.
When Estonia succeeded in freeing itself from the yoke of the USSR in 1991, the new President Lennart Meri, the child of a diplomat, decided to launch his country into the future by focusing on the modernization of the school system.
In 1996, he launched the ambitious ‘Tiger Leap National Program’. The aim is to modernize the education system and create the conditions for an environment suitable for the information age. The state assiduously funds training for teachers with this goal in mind. Gradually, education is evolving in step with new digital tools.
Subjects such as computer code or robotics are part of the lessons, sometimes from kindergarten. But digital is not the only model taught – at the same time, the pupils have to learn how to cook, sew, knit, carve wood, etc. Schools had to install kitchens and special workshops for these compulsory activities for all.
To achieve his goal, President Meri offered complete autonomy to each school. Teachers make the bridges between educational policies and their implementation. The teachers are also free and even encouraged to share their personal passions with the students.
More recently, a new national project has made it possible to create ‘smart classes’ in numerous schools which exchange the best uses of digital technology with each other. This idea was developed by Birgy Lorenz of the Association of Computer Science Teachers. “With this concept of exchanging ideas, schools can develop a lot of other areas,” says Birgy Lorenz. For example, one piece of software can be used to do digital embroidery, another to do 3D printing.
Today, Birgy is testing her students on a topic that has become critical around the world: hacking.
Says Birgy Lorenz:
Estonia needs hackers because we have developed great tools for work and school… and meanwhile there are foreign hackers trying to hack our systems. So to defend ourselves, we need hackers. Especially young people who are not yet ‘formatted’ – and have no limits.