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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 May, 2003, 09:07 GMT 10:07 UK
Estonia woos the computer age
By Helen Fawkes
BBC News Online in Tallinn, Estonia

With the click of a mouse a new draft law is passed by Estonia's government - welcome to one of the world's most hi-tech cabinet rooms.

School children looking at internet
Schools also use their computers for community lessons

Estonia is a pioneer of e-government and all its cabinet meetings are now paperless.

Ministers look at new legislation, make comments and vote online at the sleek flat-screen computer terminals.

The government's technology adviser Tex Vertman says that the system was developed by a local firm and it saves US$200 thousand a year in paper and copying costs.

Visitors to the cabinet rooms find it hard to believe that Estonia's Government can work in this environment without paper. They leave amazed at the advanced information technology.

The @ sign

Up until 1991 Estonia was part of the Soviet Union but since independence this Baltic state has embraced new technology.

It is now ranked eighth internationally for putting the internet to practical use, according to the World Economic Forum.

Estonia is now developing an e-academy to teach ex-Soviet states how to adopt this kind of technology.

Vaikus Jogisu
Our living standard is extremely low, I am just an old pensioner from the Soviet Union and I will never be able to afford my own computer
Vaikus Jogisu

Latvia and Lithuania have signed up.

To encourage people to use the internet, there are 500 public internet access points in Estonia, one of the highest numbers in Europe.

If you want to find one, you just look for an @ symbol on a road sign.

These access points are in places like airports, shopping centres and pubs.

In March the government launched an ambitious website.

Hundreds of national and local services make up the citizens' information technology centre, and all your official documents are held on it. It is accessed with a digital ID card.

It is likely that this website will be popular, with one in 10 Estonians doing their tax declarations online, and more than half of households paying their bills electronically.

Computer lessons

While the standard of living in Estonia is poor compared to the west, this country has invested highly in teaching technology.

At a kindergarten just outside the capital city Tallinn, a class of five year olds crowd around a PC, searching the internet for cartoon websites.

They have computer lessons for 15 minutes a day.

All schools in Estonia are connected to the net.

Marika Jurgin the head teacher at Sikupilli Kindergarten, says they also use their computers for community lessons.

"The goal is to make sure that everyone everywhere gets their info form the internet.

"It makes their work easier, it's easy to use and people want to learn," she says. "They were afraid but I said we must learn it.

"But now they say to me, I can send you an e-mail and I can send you an e-card for your birthday! They really took to it well."

The government is aiming to train 100,000 people to use the internet by the end of the year, and age is no barrier to this education

Vaikus Jogisu, who is 73 years old, has been taught what to do at an elderly day centre in Tallinn.

He now pops in once a week to check his e-mail.

"It would be much better if we could have this at home," he says.

"Our living standard is extremely low, I am just an old pensioner from the Soviet Union and I will never be able to afford my own computer."

In a country where average internet access already exceeds Germany, it is clear that there needs to be a real effort to get more computers into people's homes, if this technology revolution is to continue.




SEE ALSO:
The sour taste of enlargement
29 Oct 02  |  Business
Country profile: Estonia
08 Apr 03  |  Country profiles


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