Project CODE at Tartu Art School - graduates’ experiences

The third group of CODE (Competence Opportunities for Digital Employment) students graduated from Tartu Art School at the beginning of this year. Right now we are preparing to open our last CODE group and getting also ready to accept Ukranian refugees into it, if needed. However, before we do that, let’s take a look back on our graduates and the whole project. We can already see the positive influence that the project has had on NEET (not in education, employment or training) people.

“Unbelievable, after CODE introduction event, I felt like I was going to shout - why haven't I noticed programmes like this before!” said Singa, a CODE graduate, recalling her first impressions of the project.

Grete, an alumnus, who participated in CODE's first group, which focused on graphic design says “I was no stranger to this field, but I had never thought about devoting myself to graphic design before. At CODE, I immediately realized that I wanted to study graphic design at Tartu Art School. Surprisingly, I like sitting behind the computer!”

Ave Leek, the school's international coordinator, says the CODE curriculum has developed very well over the years, “The team has started to work great together, we have our own routine and the management of the study group is getting smoother.”

CODE mentor Toomas Loide is proud of his students, “They are my favorite students. They are no different from our other learners. NEET does not mean that a person is unintelligent or incompetent, it means that they have not had the same opportunities as other students, but we can offer them those.” CODE group’s teacher Vladimir Brovin adds, “NEET students have different needs. Some need technical skills, others just courage.”

Flexible and supportive curriculum

Ave Leek confirms that the CODE curriculum is getting better and better, “The curriculum is flexible because the target group is special. We can make changes according to the needs, expectations and wishes of the group. Cooperation with participants is important.”

Distance learning during the pandemic made the curriculum even more flexible. Teachers tried to find alternative solutions to long days sitting behind the computer. The school day with remote learning started with a check-up in the morning. Everyone shared their work and plans for the new day. The teacher then gave out the assignments for the day and remained online for consulting, if needed. At the end of the day, students gathered for a check-out again. The students did not have to glue their eyes to the computer screen for eight hours in a row, they just had to finish their schoolwork in the pace suitable for them. Meetings at the beginning and end of the day were important for keeping in touch.

Attention was also paid to mental health. For example, students were allowed to sleep longer and the school day started a bit later. The students also had one free week to catch up on their schoolwork without any new tasks.

“CODE aims to develop social skills in addition to technical skills. We wanted the group to become a team. Regardless of the pandemic restrictions and distance, we succeeded,” added Toomas Loide. Team spirit was strengthened through extracurricular activities. For example, computer games were played together in the evening during which they got to know each other outside the classroom.

Lovisa, a CODE graduate, pointed out liking the small study group and the fact that the students got together every week with a social educator. Mental health was also supported by invigorating exercises. For example, students were sent to take pictures of street art. To the delight of the teachers, the students had formed a good team despite social distancing restrictions, and some went on to complete the task in pairs.

The alumni experiences are encouraging

Karl, an alumnus who worked at the Estonian National Museum for almost two years before entering the CODE curriculum, felt that he is capable of more. When he left work he did not know what to do next. “I didn't know if art school was for me at all, but six months seemed like a good opportunity to get acquainted. In the end, I studied in both CODE groups, because when I graduated the first one, I wanted to get into Tartu Art School, but unfortunately it didn't work out. In the CODE group, however, I caught the eye of the teachers, so I had the opportunity to apply for a place in the second CODE group as well,” recalls Karl.

Participating in both groups benefited him and changed his career choice, “The first group focused on graphic design and the second on 3D. Now I am studying 3D at Tartu Art School.”

After graduating from high school, Grete felt that she should go on to get a bachelor's degree, but she wasn't quite sure what "her thing" was in the creative field. She went to study at the Baltic Film, Media and Arts Institute. "It was exciting, but after graduating I felt I couldn't do anything, the field was too broad. I didn't understand who I was, even though I had the skills. I couldn't start a new bachelor's degree right after because it would have cost me money.”

Grete wanted to consolidate her skills, so the 2nd level vocational training program seemed ideal for her. She recalls the beginning of her study journey, “I didn't have to prove myself or be a little better than I am.”

Students complete the CODE curriculum with a portfolio of the work done. If someone has a clear idea of ​​where to apply for a job or school, teachers will support them with a consultation to put together a suitable portfolio for application. The prerequisite for passing the curriculum is the student attending 75% of the lessons and participating in the assessment of portfolios. Everyone's contribution to joint projects will be taken into account. An important prerequisite for graduation is also communication with a career counselor with whose support a definite goal for the future is set.

Several alumni have conducted workshops for new CODE students. Among them Singa and Lovisa. Singa led a tattoo and Lovisa a book folding workshop. Grete, who is currently studying at level 4 vocational training in Tartu Art School, gives lessons to another short-term curriculum - a year of vocational choice - in addition to her studies.

Lovisa says that CODE became a springboard for her further studies. “After completing the curriculum, it was quite easy for me to get admitted into the Estonian Academy of Arts,” she says. “The atmosphere in the CODE project was very cozy, I was able to be myself and it encouraged me,” says Grete, who is confident in her choice after finishing CODE. “I still have a lot to learn, but with CODE I got a higher quality portfolio to move on with. I don't know if I would otherwise have gotten into Tartu Art School.” Singa, who now has her own company and tattoo parlor, says that the CODE program provided a lot of new technical skills and also left time for personal life, sports and work.

The mentoring of NEETs has also given a lot to their teachers. CODE teacher Vladimir said, “I am studying to be a teacher at the university and teaching CODE group has helped me on that journey. We did a lot of project study with CODE students, in parallel I wrote my seminar work on that topic. Project training means that we did real work for real clients. For example, T-shirts and a Tartu street art card pack were completed within the course of the project. Students could also try selling T-shirts on social media. In addition, we visited creative companies.”

Teacher Toomas admits, “I feel that I am a better teacher after the CODE project. My team building and leadership skills have developed a lot. The students must form a team, as a teacher I try to be a bystander.”

The project CODE benefits from a 2 300 000 € grant from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA and Norway Grants Fund for Youth Employment. The sole responsibility for the content of this website lies with the Human Resources Development Agency and under no circumstances can be assumed that it reflects the official opinion of the Fund Operator or the Donors.