Hi there! This is Brigid and Bree reporting on yet another day in the magical land of Finland. We are both rising senior elementary education majors and have absolutely loved our time here. We hope to implement some of the practices we have seen in our own classrooms one day!
Our Finnish adventures are actually coming to an end! Today, we finished up our stay in Oulu with two school visits and are awaiting a flight back to Helsinki. We fly to Prague tomorrow morning to begin the second leg of our trip in the Czech Republic! We have had quite an adventure during our time here in Oulu, from our Arctic reindeer adventures to meeting THE Santa Claus to (surprise) visiting even more incredible schools.
We started today off bright and early, meeting in the lobby at 8AM and piling on a bus to our first stop, Kastellin Monitoimitalo Kirjasto. Don’t worry, we can’t pronounce it either. Essentially, it is a community-centered school with three functioning schools within it: pre-primary, primary, and upper primary. These three sections are purposefully separated with their own individual areas, but do interact between each other and within the community.
A trend that we have definitely noticed in Finland is a push for schools to encourage community relations and integration. The school is described as more of a community center than a traditional school. In fact, their library is not only shared among the sections of the school— it is open to the community as well. It acts as a sort of hub, which is a great example of Finland’s love for literacy. People from the community are free to come and check out books, even after the library staff has left for the night. (Finnish people believe strongly in trust and honesty. Finnish culture is deeply intertwined with their education system.)
Our tour guide was a mathematics teacher in the upper school. She began our tour with the pre-primary area. As we’ve seen before, the pre-primary grades include day care and pre-school. Daycare in Finland is equivalent to our pre-school system, with students who are under six years of age. Pre-school is equivalent to our kindergarten, including students who are six years of age. This section of the school includes around 125 children who mostly attend three days per week for a minimum of four hours per day. The pre-primary section within the larger school catered to their every need. Their resources seemed boundless, complete with well stocked classrooms, gym areas, a playground, and even napping rooms.
We then toured the primary and upper primary grades (also sometimes referred to as early secondary). These classrooms were relatively plain, as most Finnish people prefer minimalism. Most classrooms consisted only of white desks, smartboards, and an accent wall with student work. This school used the open learning environment practice in which students are allowed to work freely both in or outside the classroom. As we walked, we saw students working in the hallways. The student to teacher ratio in this upper school can be up to 36 to 40 students per one teacher in some classes (of course, classes like chemistry must have smaller class sizes by law for safety reasons). This was somewhat shocking to hear, as we have seen only small class sizes up until this point.
We saw many shoes and helmets lining the halls, as students take their shoes off before entering the classroom. Students all either walk or ride bikes to school because Finnish schools strongly encourage students to walk or bike to school. This is both environmentally and fiscally responsible.
The last stops on our tour included the school counseling center, e-school, and gym facilities. There is great emphasis placed on mental health and guidance for the students at the school. Finland is known for being not only one of the most successful countries in education, but in overall happiness and contentment as well. The e-school’s office was situated right next door to the counseling center. It was the headquarters of a national online school in which Finnish people from across the country can take online courses. This is yet another way in which the school was connecting with the community. The gym facilities included state of the art equipment, free for students and teachers. When we parted ways, our lovely tour guide encouraged us to keep in touch with our new Finnish friends!
After a quick stop at the market for lunch, our second visit of the day included a trip to OSAO Vocational College outside Oulu, where 1300+ students study. In Finland, vocational schools include specific career training and the learning of technical skills. Students may start as early as fifteen, choosing to gain skills necessary to enter into the workforce sooner than their peers pursuing a more traditional academic education path. About half of Finnish students choose to pursue vocational schooling after the upper grades, but young students aren’t the only ones that can attend schools like this one. Adults who wish to fine-tune their skills or receive extra qualifications may also attend. As is (almost) always the case in Finland, these students receive this education for free. Many even hold a job while they take classes at vocational school. This particular school offers apprenticeship, labor, political, and personnel training. They also offer vocational qualifications such as vehicle technology, electrical engineering, construction, upholstery, surface treatment technology, catering, hairdressing.
It was interesting to observe how these classes heavily collaborated with companies and other industries in order to design courses that fully prepare the students for the workforce. These close ties ensure that the programs are competence-based, so students are learning skills that are necessary for their specific field of work. Each student actually has an individual study plan, which the students and teachers create together to ensure the best education possible and to determine if there is any need for special support.
We walked through autoshops, hair salons, construction simulators, and kitchens that were fully equipped. The facilities were absolutely incredible and with the student interactions we had, we could really tell that they were doing incredibly meaningful learning. Each student seemed to love what they were doing and truly believed that they were gaining the skills necessary to succeed in their future careers. Oh, and perhaps most importantly, Dr. Svec may have found his new calling on this tour.
It is important to note that schools like this that promote blue-collared work are not looked down upon, but rather seen as equal to any more white-collared counterpart. Finnish society emphasizes equity above all else — and especially in the education system, no matter what the level. There truly are no dead ends, as our speaker (a school director) explained!
Well, that’s all from us! Our flight is here! Wish us luck as we embark on the next leg of our adventure - see you tomorrow in Prague! Hei-Hei (goodbye) for now!