How Finland is leading the way, again #phenomenonbasedteaching

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The SCIL Vision Tour 2016 will be spending a few days in Finland. This small Nordic nation is in the process of rolling out its new curriculum approach phenomenon-based teaching.

Around 15 years ago Finland became the shining light in education achievement, due to its “mouse that roared” status. With a small population and modest budget Finland shone in the international PISA rankings.

When I first visited Finland in 2012 to find out more about the education system, there were high-level administrators from other countries at that time beating a path to the door, anxious to reach the goal, “beat Finland”. The Finnish National Board of Education told us that Singapore, South Korea and Shanghai, amongst others, were sending successive delegations.

From my perspective Finland’s uniqueness included:

  • Equity and access to learning across the nation
  • High community regard for the teaching profession
  • Teacher quality
  • Local autonomy for schools
  • Culture of trust
  • School as community

Since then, the Finland have been usurped in their positioning, but remain a place of interest as they seek to continually respond to the changing world that young people will face and look at curriculum reform from a future-focused viewpoint. Bi-partisan agreement on education policy enables continuous transformation.

Headline: Finland schools: Subjects scrapped and replaced with ‘topics’ as country reforms its education systemThe Independent (UK) newspaper, 20 March 2015.

A year ago international headlines heralded the next stage of development, Finland  “scraps subjects”. It turns out that this was more sensationalist than reality, but it caught the world’s attention and Finland was back in the education conversation.

Next headline: Finland’s school reforms won’t scrap subjects altogether, The Conversation, 26 March, 2015

So what are they really doing in this small Nordic nation that once beat Russia in a war? (no, really – here)

The new National Curriculum Framework will be in place at the start of the school year in August 2016, outlined by Irmeli Halinen from the Finnish National Board of Education

Developing schools as learning communities, and emphasising the joy of learning and a collaborative atmosphere, as well as promoting student autonomy in studying and in school life – these are some of our key aims in the reform. FNBE, 25 March 2015.

Specific subjects are taught maths, history, arts and music; in addition, transversal competencies will work across the school subjects:

  • Thinking and learning to learn
  • Taking care of oneself
  • Cultural literacy
  • Multi-literacy
  • ICT competence
  • Competence for the world of work (entrepreneurship)
  • Participation and influence – building a sustainable future

Local authorities and schools have the autonomy to translate the competencies in ways that are meaningful to their community and each are assessed as a component of the core subject assessment. Key to the changes is rethinking school culture, each school a community in itself.

So what’s different about this from our own school experiences (those of us outside Finland)?  Many of us apply new thinking and methodologies at an individual school (or even class) level, whilst simultaneously juggling state/national obligations that feel in conflict with what we believe education should be. In Finland there is no national testing, no inspections of schools. Therefore the curriculum becomes a tool for steering a national direction in education. This core curriculum, along with the local curriculum is developed in an open and collaborative process.

The SCIL Vision Tour will be spending a few days in Finland – Helsinki, Espoo, Tampere and Hameenlinna. This will be a unique opportunity to gain a first hand experience of the forward-thinking approach to school and learning.

More information here.

@anneknock

 

4 Replies to “How Finland is leading the way, again #phenomenonbasedteaching”

  1. Great article Anne – thanks for the synthesis of information and your observations. They are always insightful and interesting to read.

  2. I had the opportunity to spend a few days with Irmeli Halenin when she was visiting India in September 2015. Some of the insights I developed during conversation with her are:
    1. curriculum review happens by including schools, parents, districts and in some cases students too. Collectively everybody arrives at an understanding of what should be taught or learnt . Collective responsibility and ownership !!!
    2. Break before your work is another principle they follow. After every class, they have a 15mnt break to resume the next class.
    3. Yes, as you mentioned, absence of national level tests and interference from local authorities lead to responsible autonomy. They are all in it together-with trust and ownership.

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