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Nov 2, 2023

Estonia & Rethinking Education for a Smarter Future - In the Field with Michael Muthukrishna (video)

Learn why Estonia has more $1B unicorn companies per capita, and the highest student scores in mathematics, reading, and science in the West.

By Templeton Staff

Michael Muthukrishna's book A Theory of Everyone: The New Science of Who We Are, How We Got Here, and Where We’re Going, draws on research from across the sciences, humanities, and the emerging field of cultural evolution. In tandem with the book, a supplemental video series titled "In the field with Michael Muthukrishna," was produced. Made possible with funding from Templeton World Charity Foundation and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), the series features clips of the author discussing book-related topics at various global locations. This post highlights the third installment. Follow the series here.

Knowledge and its delivery methods have enabled humans to continually enhance our intelligence. "Over many generations, we’ve made ourselves smarter than nature intended – and we should be looking for ways to maintain this," says Dr. Michael Muthukrishna, in his recent piece for The Guardian. "Education is the software that our brains run, and faced with ever more daunting challenges, we can’t afford to settle for an outdated version." Adapting education to modern technology and information abundance is key to progress and a flourishing future. 

In his book and the above video, Muthukrishna explains why "learning isn’t something that should remain static," and outlines how Estonia and its education system embodies  many elements of a "collective brain approach to innovation and evolution."


"Education is the software that our brains run, and faced with ever more daunting challenges, we can’t afford to settle for an outdated version." - Michael Muthukrishna


Estonia and Rethinking Education for a Smarter Future

Estonia is the country with the highest number of "unicorn companies" per capita in the world. Muthukrishna ties this success to Estonia's radical education approach, focused on decentralization, trust in teachers, and the dissemination of best practices as opposed to top-down control.

It wasn't always this way. In 1991, after the Soviet era, just half of households in Estonia had telephone access. It has since transformed into a country where all schools are connected to the internet, and students excel in mathematics, reading, and science, surpassing the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and other Western countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests. This is because Estonia "recognized that the future performance of their country depended on the future performance of their people," says Muthukrishna.

Estonia's rapid transformation began in 1996 when the country's Tiger Leap Foundation "disrupted" traditional curricula with a new program showing students and teachers how to learn through the Internet. With part of the program called "School Life," teachers are also trained to look for the most useful information and resources and to share these with each other, creating a kind of "collective brain" for educators. "Teachers are incentivized to share their knowledge, and the best are given opportunities to travel and learn from other teachers and education systems elsewhere. When the first generation of Tiger Leap kids entered university and then the public and private sector, Estonia was transformed forever," says Muthukrishna.


"Today, Estonia recognizes that the rise of AI changes everything. That education itself needs another radical rethink. And so they're exploring new possibilities."


Play the above video and/or read the book to find out how Estonia continues to innovate, "offering opportunities for radical revolutions not only in education but in governance, health care, and every other aspect of its society."

You'll learn:

  • How Estonia is the first country to start teaching programming and algorithms to six year olds.
  • What's different about the way Estonia teaches math.
  • What the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) has to do with "swapping" where homework and schoolwork happen.
  • Why it's important for the next generations to "learn how to learn" and how to "seek out the most valuable information past a cacophony of noise in a world filled with information."

Watch installments from the video series

Introduction:  A Theory of Everyone

Episodes 1 & 2: Airplanes, Shipping Containers & the Collective Brain

Episode 3: Estonia & Rethinking Education for a Smarter Future

Episode 4: Contrasting Cultural Strategies for Success

Episode 5: Perspectives Beyond WEIRD & the Origins of Behavioral Economics

Michael Muthukrishna is Associate Professor of Economic Psychology in the Department of Psychological and Behavioral Science and Affiliate in Developmental Economics and Data Science at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).