No. 34




Development of the modern national system of innovation in Estonia with the support of people’s education and community houses

14 December 2016


RiTo No. 34, 2016

Innovation is considered one of the main driving forces of economy. Info-technological innovation as the basis and precondition of economic competitiveness is often mentioned in the national policies of Estonia, and in this context, small Estonia with its image of e-state has gained recognition. But is this enough for making a society innovative? What is the innovativeness of a society based on? What role creativity and education have, and what the historical experience of the Estonian society is in this field – these are the questions this article tries to answer.

In the 1990s, Lundvall and Freeman introduced the concept of national systems of innovation. Australian culture theoreticians Potts and Hartley show that the innovation mechanism of any area first of all lies in the networking participation of people in the creation and consuming of new knowledge, experiences and meanings, which is a cultural and universal phenomenon by its nature. Thus innovation is not something that is particular to only technological, industrial development and research activity based on formal education system.

Modernisation of Europe also meant new culture code and change of values. The formation of Estonian public was supported by the spread of Estonian written word, emergence of national elite and developing economy. In the 1880, the literacy rate of the Estonians approached 100 percent and many newspapers with various supplements were published, but there was no public space where the Estonian people could meet and promote their culture. The soul and spirit of modern Estonians has been influenced by the community houses that had been built since the last decades of the 19th century, and which architecturally resembled opera houses. Community houses represented a new spatial cultural model and symbolised freedom. This is what the Estonians wanted: to become cultured, and to become free of the guardianship of nobility. Community houses were erected in spite of difficulties, by 1940, there were around 400 of them in Estonia, like nowadays. Thanks to its enlightening role as a stronghold of informal education, the community house was the constant innovator and developer of the public, giving the country people a possibility to engage in new type of artistic hobbies, which may be called lifelong learning or informal education system with its lectures, libraries and debates.

The story of the community houses of Estonia proves the theory of Hartley and Potts that if people of different backgrounds and knowledge come together for creative activities, a diffusion of understanding and information takes place, and new knowledge is created, which is the driving force of innovation.

Nowadays we are again speaking of the connections between innovation and informal education. The state is expanding the conception of education by including informal education. It is good to know that in this sphere, we already have long-time experience with a historical network of institutions established by our enterprising and bravely dreaming ancestors.