As a part of the Estonian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, EUROPEA International held a conference titled “From Rural to Digital” on 21-24 September in Tartu, with representatives of vocational education and training institutions for agriculture and rural economics from 20 countries participating in the event. All the parties agreed that future workers need to be innovative, flexible, willing to communicate, able to adapt and ready to use various IT-solutions.
“Agricultural education is in constant change as it moves with the developments in society and technology. The Ministry of Rural Affairs still has close cooperation with agricultural education institutions. Vocational schools for agriculture play an important part in promoting rural life and shaping policies and offer a wide range of possibilities for lifelong learning,” Minister of Rural Affairs Tarmo Tamm said in his address at the conference.
During the second day of the conference, several interesting and innovative solutions were presented, followed by a discussion panel. The participants came to the conclusion that the rapid developments in economy and technology require structural changes in vocational education and training. The needs to improve the attitude towards vocational education and for employers to be more involved in the vocational education system were also stressed during the conference.
The moderator of the conference, Ants-Hannes Viira, believes that implementing innovative IT-solutions will help improve productivity and be more sustainable for the environment. At the same time, they will also attract new and industrious people into the agro-food industry.
According to Elisabeth Hönigsberger, Secretary General of EUROPEA International, dealing with numerous challenges, such as climate change or food supply, puts an enormous demand on agriculture, as well as the agricultural training institutions and makes both rural and digital solutions necessary.
“Exchange of experience and cooperation among 20 countries is extremely important as this will help keep the high standards of our training institutions in the agricultural sector. The excellent examples presented in the meeting have already led to the first ideas and discussions for future projects to support our agricultural students in their learning process,” Hönigsberger stressed.
She added that: “As the Secretary General of EUROPEA, I want to express my gratitude for this perfectly organised meeting. We were impressed by the professionalism of EUROPEA Estonia and the hospitality of the Estonian people.”
According to Katrin Uurman, Director of the EUROPEA Estonian, the EUROPEA network is perfect for developing a good cooperation between partners and for finding answers through joint discussions and projects. “A new generation of youth is entering the market – a generation who, in the near future, will start to use technology that doesn’t even exist yet. And in that generation, there are also those who will, through their boldness and creativity, start to develop new and effective technologies for the agricultural sector. The EUROPEA International network with its possibilities for international cooperation will help with that. Together we are strong and will move forward,” she stressed.
“The number of rural economic or green sector schools has decreased in Europe as a whole. In order to gain new experience and organise professional competitions and various projects, we have to work together with other countries. This will also give an excellent opportunity for both teachers and students to gain international experience,” Head Master of Olustvere School for Services and Rural Economics, Arnold Pastak, said.
In addition to exchanging knowledge and experience, participants had an opportunity to get acquainted with Estonian educational institutions for agriculture and rural economics. During the first evening, members of EUROPEA were hosted by the Estonian Agricultural Museum. Guests were introduced to the Estonian food culture and farming traditions, while a real blacksmith gave a practical overview of his work. The musical entertainment was provided by the female choir Emajõe Laulikud.
On the third day of the conference, one group went to Räpina School of Horticulture with practical workshops and an opportunity for the participants to visit the small-entrepreneur Figuraata OÜ and the Räpina Creative Centre. At the same time, another group visited Olustvere School for Services and Rural Economics, where guests had a chance to visit the local food fair and the International Youth Ploughing Contest. The participants also met with the Minister of Rural Affairs of Estonia, Mr Tarmo Tamm.
EUROPEA international conference was organised by the EUROPEA Estonia and the Ministry of Rural Affairs of Estonia.
The EUROPEA International network is an organisation of institutions providing vocational education and training for agricultural, horticultural and forestry professions. It was created in 1992 and currently has 25 member countries. The goal of the network is to raise the levels of vocational education in agriculture, organise student and teacher exchange, help develop international cooperation projects, organise and support professional competitions and promote vocational education.
Estonia became a member of EUROPEA International in 2005. Estonia is represented in the EUROPEA International network by the non-profit organisation EUROPEA Estonian Centre that is a network for cooperation between representatives of the Järvamaa Vocational Education Centre, Olustvere School for Services and Rural Economics, Luua Forestry School and Räpina School of Horticulture.