FINLAND – Amazing and Full of Learning

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On our amazing and full of learning four day trip to Finland, on the second last day, we went to a school called Kasavuori Secondary School which had classes from grade 7 to 9. It seemed very different from our schools in India because of not only the numbers as it had only 340 children but also the student teacher ratio which was high as there were 35 teachers to take care of them.

The Finnish education was a lot different because of the policies of the government which allowed a lot of freedom to the teachers of a school to teach and plan lessons their way as per the needs of the children only keeping in mind the broad objectives that have to be met as laid down in their educational framework.

The school had already planned the curriculum based on the skills that would be needed by children in 2030. They planned everything keeping the child in the centre and believed in a multi disciplinary approach. They believe strongly in language proficiency and language teaching where they had a choice between Finnish and Swedish as the medium of instruction; from grade three English is taught as a second language with other languages like Russian and German later. A lot of emphasis was laid on language teaching in the initial years so that every child understood what was being taught and did not struggle for comprehension due to a language barrier.

Besides academics the emphasis was on overall development, global awareness and awareness of the environment. Therefore, there were different teams of teachers working in groups of three, seven, eight or nine with the children on different areas like internationalism, ecology, etc. Their main focus was on children’s learning rather than on teaching. Children’s learning environment included a personal device for they believe in teaching through technology and use a lot of apps to teach. Collaborative learning was very important as social skills were taught through this method as they want to make their children ready for being anywhere globally.

They used a lot of spaces outside the classroom. There is a stipulation that the children had to be taken out of the classroom for at least 40% of the time spent on learning. The technique they used to teach and learn was interactive, collaborative and experiential so that learning was meaningful and the joy of learning was always kept alive.

Few things that interested me was the emphasis on home economics where all children were supposed to learn basics of cooking, stitching, cleaning, accounting so that they had the skill to run a home irrespective of gender. This was compulsory and I thought was a very practical approach keeping in mind that more and more men and women are independently running a home now. Their emphasis on textile work and designing as a compulsory subject was very creative.

The teachers after going through five years of compulsory training to be a teacher were all researchers thereby bringing in their expertise to their classroom and their research was applied to the classes. This got an element of research to the class as the teachers while teaching and applying their research also developed newer methods and abandoned impractical methods and the complete teaching fraternity gained from their research. We had a nutritious and well balanced meal in the school which is free for the teachers and children every day. This ensures that children from all backgrounds get at latest one healthy well balanced meal a day.

This was followed by our visit to the University of Helsinki where we met a very interesting and inspiring school principal Mr Miko Leppanen from Viherkallio School, Espoo. He had served in the army and had been a part of the UN peacekeeping forces.

He had four children of his own and loved children and that was the reason for becoming a school principal. He felt that because of his army background he could get some discipline into his job yet he had to also grow in patience as in a school it is not possible to have everything as perfect as an army setup. The school he was heading was a 100 year old school and he had to bring in a lot of changes.

The vision of the school was that the students from the school will have self knowledge and evaluation skills. They will be able to easily handle ICT and have performance skills. They should be able to build knowledge in a changing world and have skills of interaction.

Keeping this vision in mind the mission was to have lot of collaborative learning in flexible groups and use a lot of the latest technology. Drama and performing arts was emphasised to improve performance skills. The 21st century skills emphasised on were interaction, cooperation, self evaluation and building self knowledge so as to nurture students as independent individuals.

Though the PISA results for Finland were good yet they felt that that was not the ultimate. In fact, a passion for nurturing students was more important. School satisfaction comes only from researching new and good learning-teaching methodologies, using technology. They are concerned about the physical and emotional safety and security of the children and ensuring that they are in the company of reliable adults and providing them a cozy atmosphere to study in school and at home.

For all this, leadership was the key and the leader has to believe strongly in values and see to it that values are at the core of all that happens in the school. There has to be shared responsibility and leadership of all in the school and all decisions had to be made in agreement with all and not just the Principal as that is when all feel encouraged and motivated and there is shared happiness. All should be able to learn together and also feel free to make and learn from their mistakes.

Everyone should get freedom and time to be creative and experiment with new ideas. People in the school need to be enthused and should know the expectations from them and work on their own and not just wait for instructions. Every decision has to be taken together by all. They believe that communication should also be good, therefore in different departments there are agreements which are reached together like working pair agreement, leadership agreement, communication agreement, interaction agreement, etc. For example in a working pair agreement there has to be an understanding between student, parent and teacher what is expected from each and this has to be clearly communicated to each party. In this way tasks are clear and there is no confusion in the running of the school.

Some of the values which are at the base of the agreements are listening to others, safety, motivation, respect, cooperation, trust, good manners, openness, etc.

The work culture that is to be built is one where the vision is clear after which the mission should be worked out. A strategy has to be planned which has to be put into operation. The work then has to be evaluated and remedial measures have to be taken. This cycle is important for good work. Structure is very important for the smooth running of the school. The emphasis is on building an innovative school through dialogue and support and to involve the whole community.

Overall the experience and learning was very invigorating as it brought about a paradigm shift which I hope will help in our outlook towards our children and the institutions that we administer.

Amrita Burman
Director, Sunbeam Group of Schools,
Varanasi