Learning from Finland and connecting with my heritage

In less than a week I will have the opportunity to visit two schools in Finland.

Since I was a child I have been proud of my Finnish heritage. My grandfather was a merchant sailor early last century. He arrived in Sydney, jumped ship and fell in love with a young Australian woman. Sadly, the clash of cultures proved to be too much to sustain the marriage, however, for the six children, the links with Finland remained strong. I remember the day, as a 10 year old child receiving a letter from a girl in Pori, on the west coast of Finland.

Our grandfathers were brothers and she wanted to be my ‘pen-friend’. A quaint term we used before email and the ease of travel to describe a relationship across the seas. Kaija and I have been in contact now for four decades, we are now ‘Facebook-friends’. It always intrigued me how since we were children, Kaija would always write to me in very good English.

When this small nation first came onto the world’s educational radar we happened to have a young Finnish woman staying with us for a few months for an internship in Sydney. Piia was a colleague of Kaija. So I undertook a survey of one, to find out why Piia thought the education system in her homeland was so successful.

Her answer had three reasons:
1. The high regard that the teaching profession is held within the community
2. An expectation of equity of access to quality schooling no matter who you were or where you lived
3. School is a comfortable place to go and almost feels like home.

Pasi Sahlberg is a significant voice of the Finnish education system. He is the Director of CIMO, the Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation, located in Helsinki. He also writes a blog about Finnish education reform.

In his most recent post: On a Road to Nowhere Sahlberg writes:
A typical feature of teaching and learning in Finland is high confidence in teachers and principals as respected professionals. Another involves encouraging teachers and students to try new ideas and approaches rather than teaching them to master fixed attainment targets. This makes school a creative and inspiring place for students and teachers. These policies are a result of three decades of systematic, mostly intentional development that has created a culture of diversity, trust and respect within Finnish society in general, and within its education system in particular. The result is a cocktail of good ideas from other countries and smart practices from the tradition of teaching and learning in Finland.

The secret of education in Finland is that it brings together government policy, professional involvement and public engagement around an inspiring social and educational vision of equity, prosperity and creativity in a world of greater inclusiveness, security and humanity. This is the 4th Way of educational change.

So whatever the ‘secret’ of the Finnish education system is, I am excited to be able to experience it. I will be going to a school in Espoo: Hösmärinpuiston koulu (Hösmärinpuisto School)

This school in Espoo is a leading example of a flexible, multiuse building that combines ecological ideas and construction using local materials into a remarkable design. Completed in 2005, the facility provides educational and development programmes for up to 250 children and is used extensively by the local community for various activities.

The second is smaller school Porin Suomalainen Yhteislyseo in Pori, the one that Kaija’s daughter attended. It is a sports, music and arts specialist school, with 330 students aged 12-16.

I am looking forward to visiting these two schools and am very grateful that they both have so readily invited me. This will be my second visit to Finland and only the third time Kaija and I have met face to face.

Now, seeing you have made it this far… In 2012 February the OECD Centre for Exemplary Learning Environments is holding its conference in collaboration with the University of Turku in Finland. SCIL will be hosting a tour to this conference and starting with a couple of days of school visits. If you are interested in joining us for the week of 20-26 February, go to our website and signup for the newsletter of just follow @SCIL on Twitter.

Do you want to come?

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