On Friday morning, we met with the National Board of Education to get an overview of the education system in Finland. The two key points of the Finnish education system are equity and trust.
Finnish education seeks to give all students equal access to a good education. This means that all students are the same status when they enter the school. The schools will also accommodate students whose families cannot afford technology in the classroom with the materials that they will need. When a question was asked about the effects of socioeconomic status and race on education, our speaker, Eeva-Kalsa Linna, spoke on how these things do not affect the education of students. I thought this was very interesting because in the United States, socioeconomic status and race very much affect the education of students.
The Finnish education system also has large amounts of trust in the teachers in the schools. The teachers in Finland are all required to complete their Master’s degree before they begin teaching. These teachers are also able to have autonomy in the classroom in how they teach the curriculum. There is not national testing in Finland, but teachers are trusted to assess the progress of their students with how they see fit. Unlike the United States, Finland has a national curriculum, but again, teachers are able to be autonomous in how they teach it. The teachers take into account students' preferences when teaching, as well.
Our second stop of the day was at Kasavuori Dream School here where we met with the head of their international relations unit, Marjo Kekki, and also got a chance to meet their principal, Leen-Maija Niemi. Marjo Kekki told us about how the program in the school worked and then we got a chance to both eat in the cafeteria as well as observe some classrooms. This school is for 7th-9th graders and is preparing them for far more than just school subjects, but also real life skills. The overall school set up is very similar to that which we may see in the United States with a cafeteria and hallways with classrooms and lockers. The entry way, however, is very different than schools in Greenville because there is no security or check in. We were met by Marjo Kekki and escorted into the school, but it is such a safe area that the high level of security clearance is not necessary. One thing we noticed when we drove in was that there were so many bikes, mopeds and motorcycles parked at the entrance that kids had used to travel to and from school which is very different and interesting.
The first class we observed was a cooking class in which the kids were preparing their own lunches. They were required to make a main dish, a greens dish and a dessert item. The teacher was very supportive, but allowed the kids to create their dishes and menus independently. We then went to see a sewing class where kids were working on their projects independently and making items such as dresses and bags. This was quite impressive and such a great skill for them to have at such a young age. The last class we saw was a woodshop, technology and metal class.The teacher was very knowledgable and enthusiastic. He showed us many of the kids' projects and explained the curriculum well. Lastly we walked though an art classroom as well as a German language classroom. The German classroom was interesting because it was very intentionally designed with the Swiss alps mural as well as two tables similar to that which would be seen at Oktoberfest. Overall, what we saw were very engaged children who were learning invaluable skills that are far more than just school subjects. The teachers were very attentive but not overbearing to their kids and they were all knowledgable about their subjects.
On Friday afternoon, we met with Mr. Pasi Silander who specializes in phenomenon based learning. He spoke on how the method of phenomenon based learning focuses on teaching competencies that children are interested in. He shared a link with us that would better explain this methodology: http://www.phenomenaleducation.info/phenomenon-based-learning.html Further in the workshop, Mr. Silander revealed that the teachers in Finland are so successful because they have a book full of guidelines and activities for each standard they are supposed to teach. This contradicted what we had been learning throughout the day because we had been hearing that teachers were very autonomous in the classroom and that the curriculum was based on what the students wanted to be learning. Mr. Silander said that this book was created by the best teachers in Finland and everyone follows it. Of course we didn't get to see this book for ourselves, but knowing this information now, I am interested to see what other teachers say about it when we go visit more schools in Finland.