After writing the post on phenomenon-based learning in Finland there was a great discussion, comments on the post and a LinkedIn thread. It really makes ideas come alive when we engage in discussion. So thanks to Seetha, Bernadette, Kristina, Rebecca and Matt.
The emerging themes were:
- Curriculum review has collective responsibility and ownership
- 15 minute break before next class
- Autonomy is built on trust and ownership
- Prioritising what matters when implementing a new system
- Going against the grain – starting school later
And a comment for further discussion from Bernadette: I have seen context/culture not being addressed in educational discussions on Finland’s educational system
This is an important point. The photograph (below) accompanying the recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald portrayed Finland as an amish-style community, not really reflecting a modern culture. Was this how they meant to portray the nation today?
My grandfather was from Finland and I have visited numerous times, professionally and to meet family. So my thoughts on this are based on my own experiences, there is something quite unique about the Finnish society.
Culture: There is a strong moral code and societal expectations that is the glue of society. Many traditions are held as they reflect the uniqueness. Visiting a school in an area with a large immigrant community they explained the responsibility to teach and model the Finnish lifestyle expectations to the new community members.
‘Nordic’ not ‘Scandinavian’: Have you noticed? I haven’t referred to Finland as ‘Scandinavian’. This is a point of contention across the region, as Norway, Denmark and Sweden don’t seem to consider Finland as part of Scandinavia, hence ‘Nordic’ as the collective term.
Finance and the Euro: Within the Nordic regions, Finland was the only country to adopt the Euro as their currency. This has led to much internal dialogue and doubt concerning its ongoing benefits to the people and businesses. My friends tell me that there are economic pressures at the moment.
Language: Finland is a country of only around 5 million people and a language all of their own. Swedish is taught as the official second language. English became the unofficial second language long ago. My ‘small cousin’ and I are both in our 50s, and have been writing since we were 10. Kaija started learning English in 3rd Grade.
Climate: It’s cold in winter and dark for long periods of the day between November and March. If you must stay indoors for long periods, you may as well put your head down and get your school work done.
Geography: Earlier this year I attended a briefing at the Finnish National Board of Education. Our host said that many describe Finland as an island because the longest border along Russia is almost impassable (at least from the Finnish side). History shows an ability to stand up to Russia.
Gender: Women are well represented across the society, especially in leadership roles. Along with their neighbours: all Nordic countries have closed over 80 percent of the gender gap, making them useful as both role models and benchmarks. Huffpost. Finland gave women the vote in 1906, and have long-provided the conditions for women to return to work.
Brain drain and the Nokia-effect: In 2012 students weren’t interested in Nokia phones, they just wanted an iphone. Much has been written about the decline of the former tech giant. This has led to a brain drain. At a recent conversation with some young friends, they said that many of their peers see more opportunities outside Finland, and they are leaving.
This is completely subjective and could apply to many places in the world. But I do believe that these are a unique combination of elements that help make the Finns who they are today. They do need to work hard and make their mark in Europe and beyond, they need to address education to keep the best and the brightest in the country and, unlike Australia, a lot of time is spent indoors. Working hard to maintain their identity appears significant – way of life, traditions and societal codes.
Above all – education matters. It is the key to a better future.
I would love to receive comments, reflections and downright disagreements to help up all find out a little more about what makes Finland tick.