Learning about the unique Finnish education system
Written by Jerrell (Tom) Asbill
A group of three educators and eight students from the University of Wyoming came to TAMK from May 27th to May 31st to learn about Finnish education, pedagogy and culture. Most of the students in the group were aspiring to be teachers, so their experience at TAMK had the potential of shaping future educators. The university educators represented a variety of fields.
The first session Monday morning was about Finnish education and its philosophy and pedagogy. The session was full of information, but also fantastic questions. This session essentially set in motion the process of achieving the group’s learning objectives. A tour of the TAMK main campus was also given.
Following the morning session, the group was taken to a vocational school for a tour and presentation about vocational education. Many of the questions from the group were about the vocational school versus attending a high school. It was also a shock to many within the group that students graduating from a vocational school went into real careers that had the potential to be quite lucrative. It is a huge departure from the “everyone should go to university” mantra that is preached within the US.
The next day was filled with a visit to a primary school (grades 1-8) and a high school.
The group was split in half and given student-led tours of the primary school. The Wyoming group was quite shocked that teachers did not accompany the students on the tours. The students leading the tours did a thorough job and spoke very freely and openly. Lunch was then had in the school cafeteria.
After lunch, a note on the board informed the homeroom teacher that the students guiding the tours were outside taking pictures. The shock on the faces of the Wyoming teachers and students was evident. A few of them questioned the homeroom teacher about it, she then talked about trust and responsibility.
The principal also gave a talk and explained how he talks with teachers about how he can help them rather than evaluate them near the end of the school year. He also has an open-door policy for both staff and students. His door is literally open unless he is either not at the school or in a meeting with someone. It was departure from the norm in the US where the principal is the main evaluator and disciplinarian within the school.
Following the primary school, the group was taken to a high school that specializes in graphic arts. A teacher and her daughter, a student at the high school, led the presentation. The group seemed to be filling in the pieces of why the Finnish system is so wonderful.
Several questions were asked and answered. One of the students talked about how a Finnish high school student is more independent than a lot of university students in the US. Another talked about how the Finnish system works at instilling independence in students at a very young age. The high school visit concluded the school visits for the day on a largely positive note.
Once the school visits were completed, it was time to head to Pyynikki Observation Tower for munkki (a Finnish pastry) and coffee. A person in the group was also brave enough to buy some mustamakkara, black sausage, and shared it. The group also had the chance to go to the top of the tower. They enjoyed the views and had many questions about the different areas that they could see.
After the tower, they were led through the forest to a cottage for a Finnish sauna and lake swim experience. Pyhäjärvi provided a nice cool lake to jump into after the warmth of the sauna. In addition, they were treated to a salmon dinner and grilled sausages as an after-meal snack. Conversations flowed freely centered around a very wide variety of topics.
The third day began with reflections about the previously visited schools and then went into an interactive session delivered by Mark Curcher regarding Changing Roles and Emerging Trends: Teacher Identity, Educational Technology and Learning. His session was filled with knowledge, sound pedagogy, metacognition and a lot of laughter. His style of teaching quickly put the group at ease and helped ensure that quality dialogue followed.
A highlight of the day was a presentation given by Mark’s daughter, who is entering 7th grade this year. She had everyone riveted and amazed with how well-spoken and prepared she was for the task at hand. One of the students commented that it was one of the best presentations that he had ever seen. It truly showed the Finnish education system in action as well.
The fourth day was filled with a visit to Proakatemia to focus upon Entrepreneurial Studies at University Level and Active Learning Methods and Pedagogy, Practical Tools in Coaching. Many of the students were not sure what the day would bring, but they were all surprised with the content delivered to them.
Essentially, the methodology and pedagogy of Proakatemia was explored and applied. In addition to the normal presentation, I was able to show them my HOPS and a few essays from my time at Proakatemia. It was a great way to concretely show what takes place and what is expected of students.
The morning was used as a tool to set up the afternoon, which had them working in small teams to reflect and extrapolate on their ideas, beliefs and perceptions regarding a variety of topics. MOTOROLA was used at the end of the day to gather feedback and bring closure to the session.
The final day started with a visit to a local kindergarten. It had groups in Finnish and French. A programme was watched and followed by a tour. After the tour, the group had an opportunity to talk with the staff and play outside with the children. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the experience. It was a wonderful way to end the visit.
The day concluded back at TAMK with a feedback session. It was very eye opening and satisfying. Personally, I feel that each person experienced their own form of growth. Their experience at TAMK and Tampere took on a very personal nature. Each individual talked about something they had experienced during the week and what would have made it better.
They all left with a much better understanding of the Finnish education system. In addition, they understood why “Trust the Process” is such an apt phrase regarding Finnish education. It would not be a surprise to one day see several from the group back in Finland once again.
Oksana and Brent from the University of Wyoming
"Our TAMK colleagues did a great job of listening to our needs and areas of focus. The crafted a full week of appropriate activities, discussions, and workshops. The school visits that were organized were excellent. They also put together really good cultural experiences, especially the sauna. The logistical support they provided was essential and made things work smoothly, even down to ensuring that we could navigate to the campus and around Tampere every day.
The teaching staff we worked with at TAMK is first rate. Mark Curcher always leads thought provoking discussions; Peter Perttula consistently leads engaging sessions about Proakatemia and the importance of an entrepreneurial, innovative approach to professional endeavors. We single those out, but all of the instructors were informed and thoughtful.
We are looking forward to bringing our next group in 2020. Part of the joy of the experience for the co-instructors of this course is watching our students engage with their Finnish peers and learn about not just a different approach to education, but about differing preconceptions, a different framework, in which to think about educational systems."