An insight into the primary education system of Finland

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After having heard about the best Global education practices in Finland I was eagerly looking forward to visiting Saunalahti School in Espoo on the 24th of June 2016. A bus load of administrators and educators from India were welcomed by the Vice Principal Mrs. Minna Welin who gave us a brief profile about the school and introduced the school Principal Hanna Sarakorpito to all of us. It is here we learned that all schools in Finland are run by the government, providing equal access to high quality education and training. A well balanced meal was also provided in the school campus during the day. Education in Finland is free of cost for all students irrespective of the economic background of the parent. There were no uniforms for students. They were allowed to wear any dress of their choice. This was the first step to encourage a strong sense of individuality in them.

This school was the first multipurpose school in the area which integrated full day care centre, primary school (Classes I to VI), public library, youth centre and many activities after the school-day was over. The design of the school was based on safety and the pedagogical needs of the students. The different wings were brightly coloured. Lot of emphasis was given on drama, art, music, literature, handicraft, dance and physical education. Each child was considered unique and was allowed to learn at his own pace. The belief in love, care, safety and welfare before learning, was the basic approach adopted by the school teachers. Children with special needs were taken care of by teachers and supported by counselors during regular schooling.

Some basic principles observed in Saunalahti School:

  1. Child centered teaching — Every child has a personal curriculum according to his/her skills, needs and interest which is made in co-operation with parents. Regular meetings with parents ensure a good educational partnership. The aim is to get every student achieve his personal best and find his place in the world.
  2. Integrity and fairness — There is a commitment towards honesty, justice and mutual respect for each other. Bullying is not allowed in the school.
  3. Diversity and Equality: Everyone in the community is unique and valuable and accepted the way he is. They encourage each other to enjoy the diversity.
  4. Sustainability — Awareness of environmental issues is very strong. Students are encouraged to actively protect and preserve the environment. From early childhood Ecology is taught through field trips to the nearby woods and forest.
  5. Sense of community: The need to belong which is the basic element of everybody’s wellbeing is encouraged. Working together, learning from and other and with each other and sharing of ideas is promoted.
  6. Holistic wellness: A safe, cozy, leisurely learning environment where every child is heard, encouraged and given realistic and positive response is provided in the school. They have a well operating team organization, a survey system for early recognition of gaps in learning and for support, growth and development and a professional student support group.

Teaching in Finland is a highly sought after profession. Teachers are very skilled and highly motivated. They are regularly encouraged to enhance skills and knowledge through different professional courses, workshops and seminars. A strong sense of belonging to the community prevails. Grandparents are seen actively volunteering to help out in enhancing creative learning among students. A general environment of happiness prevails in the schools. Finnish thinking promotes maximizing the potential of each student. Guidance and Counseling is provided at all levels to help and guide the students to perform well in studies and to make correct and appropriate decisions concerning their education and careers. There are no dead ends in learning; it is a life long process. The two official languages in Finland are Finnish & Swedish. Education is provided in both the languages. English is taught only as another language in the school.

Pre-primary education is provided in daycare centres and in schools. The children at this stage adopt the basic skills, knowledge and capabilities from different areas of learning as per their age and abilities. Learning through play is essential. Basic education starts when a child turns seven and lasts nine years. The concept of neighbourhood school is prevalent. The total number of students in a school cannot exceed 600. Each class has a maximum strength of 15 students. The student teacher ratio is at 6 : 1. The pre primary and basic education receives funding from the concerned municipality. Basic education is provided within a single structure. Instruction is usually given by the same class teacher in most subjects in the first six years of education and by subject specialists in the last three years. There are no national tests for pupils in basic education. Instead teachers are responsible for the assessment in their respective subjects on the basis of the objectives written into the national core curriculum.

After the visit to the school we all headed to the University where Professor Jari Salminen from the Department of Teacher Education gave us a presentation on the Educational reform in Finland. From being an agrarian society in the 1860’s and under the influence of Russian rule till 1917 and after facing a civil war in 1918, the education climate in Finland went through a series of reforms and changes. A lot of emphasis was laid on teacher training at the university level. There was a growing respect for the department and profession of teachers. They incorporated the ideology–

‘WE RESEARCH WHAT WE TEACH AND WE TEACH WHAT WE RESEARCH’.

This statement explains the good PISA results.

As an educationist I take back a wealth of knowledge and experiences from the Finnish education system with a hope that some day the Indian education system will be able to match upto them.

Seema Sinha
Principal, St Karen’s School, Patna


reminisces…

It was indeed an enriching experience in terms of widening our knowledge, changing our perspective and understanding the best global practices in Finnish education system. Access to free and high quality education, the infrastructure, the pedagogical approach (being child centric), developing awareness on environmental issues, involvement of community, mutual respect for each other, student teacher ratio, guidance and counseling at all levels, attention to special needs incorporated into the regular education system and early vocationalisation were the highlights of the Finnish system of education which we experienced during our visit. I am immensely thankful to Mr.Dinesh, Mr.Himanshu, Mr.Naveen and Mr. Shammi for taking us on this trip. I definitely hope to incorporate some of my learning into the Indian context.