In October 2018 a group of 18 teachers joined Adolescent Success for a guided and robust program of school visits in Tampere, Finland.
The tour was organised by one of our annual partners Latitude Group Travel and ran seamlessly (check out Latitude Group Travel for all your school tour requirements they are amazing to work with!)
Apart from the incredible sense of history and culture which comes from visiting Europe, the minute we arrived in Helsinki we understood we were about to discover a very different education system.
Obviously books have been written about the Finnish education system and I could write a book about our experience but to keep it short and sweet here below are my brief, key takeaways and observations:
* Success for Finnish students is not just a product of an amazing education system, it is also a result of being brought up in a Socialist Democratic society
"Social democracy is a political, social and economic ideology that supports economic and social interventions to promote social justice within the framework of a liberal democratic polity and capitalist economy."
In other words Finnish students experience extraordinary care and protection from the state from the minute they are born. Mothers and babies are a high priority for Finland and are treated very well. Paid parental leave is generous for both mothers and fathers and early intervention is considerable. Which means learning needs are identified early and care and treatment are free for parents to access. All manner of services are free to parents and children including dental care, nutrition, all medical care including surgery and specialist, occupational therapy, physical therapy and so on. What does this mean for teachers? Kids turn up at school well cared from day one and any learning needs they have are not suddenly the responsibility of the school but have been the joint responsibility of the parents and the state for some time and have more than likely been identified and treated.
School Lunch in Finland
* Students start school at 7 years old... and when they start their days are short. Play based learning is important and outside play is mandatory. In the school we visited there were breaks every 60mins for 15 mins and they were all mandatory outside breaks (even in the snow/rain).
* Students don't bring any food to school. Teachers who are reading this... just think about that for a minute... NO LITTER! All schools in Finland have a cooked lunch provided every day for every student (all the way through to High School). During the many breaks in the school day, students do not eat... they play. I never saw a single piece of litter or a single rubbish bin at any of the schools we visited.
* "Special education is not that special in Finland", this is a quote from one of the presentations we attended during the tour. What he means is that Inclusive Education is so embedded and accessible in Finland, that is not that special. Every child has access to special education if they require it for as long as needed and there is no shame for students in using learning interventions.
* There are literally no dead ends for students in the Finnish Education System, regardless of whether students undertake an academic or vocational High School
* Students can choose either a General or Vocational High School and they can swap if they change their mind. This means that a potential engineer can garner practical experience at vocational school then switch to academic school if they want to and vice versa. Students don't have to leave school to learn a trade.
* Craft is a subject in Basic Education and there are many hands on subjects, we saw electronics, sewing, hard materials, metal work, wood work and visual art classes.
* Finnish and Swedish are national languages so all students must learn both languages. All students also learn English and then choose a 3rd and/or 4th language to learn as well. Languages are important to learn in Finland and are intwined in inclusive education with policies such as; if there are 2 or more students in your school who speak the same mother tongue, it is mandatory for the school to offer this language as a subject.
Key words that are synonymous with Finnish Education for me after this visit are:
Teachers are trusted to do their job. They are trusted by the Principals, the Department of Education, Parents and their Students. One teacher said to us "Teachers are just left alone to get on with the job."
Teachers have autonomy over their delivery and management of the curriculum.
Teaching is a highly respected profession. Only a small number of teachers who apply actually get into teaching, it is a sought after profession. Teachers told me this was not because of the pay but because of the autonomy and the job satisfaction.
There is no shame in taking either a vocational or academic pathway for High School, both are equally valued and both have a pathway to University Degree, Masters and Ph.d. There no no shame in accessing special education and no shame in using services designed to help your learning process. One teacher said to me: "In Australia it seems to me as if students are considered either readers or non-readers, in Finland our students are considered either readers or doers and both are valued."
Do you want to join our 2020 school tour of Finland? Jump over here and find out more about how you can join us.