I was elated to be part of a group of 30 Principals / Heads of Schools for the “9th International Study Tour for School Leaders” to Finland between 1st May to the 07th May 2016 jointly organised by EduExcellence and EduCluster Finland. The objective of the trip was to provide a deep understanding about the educational model, the school policies and best practices and administration followed in Finland from people developing and implementing them over the years.
Though the visit was short, the programme was delicately well balanced to cover all the aspects and objectives of the ‘Trip’. It had given the insight in understanding the mammoth work carried out over years diligently and tirelessly for more than two decades by the country and people connected, being extremely appreciable and commendable. The trip had included conferences; sessions with the Principals and other key resource persons; visits to experience the day-to-day reality of school model; understand the best practices in vogue and interaction with all concerned.
What had made the trip to Finland also called the ‘Land Of A Thousand Lakes’ remarkable, interesting and compelling was the philosophy and a educational doctrine to bring excellence in the system mentioned herein:
- The Education Policy and System: The long term objective of providing equal opportunities for all citizens to a high-quality education and training with equity and internationalisation built on lifelong learning and free education – a key to competitiveness and wellbeing of the society. There are no dead-ends preventing progression to higher levels of education.
- The focus in education is on learning rather than testing. There are no national tests for students in basic education in Finland. Instead, teachers are responsible for assessment in their respective subjects on the basis of the objectives included in the curriculum. The only national examination, the matriculation examination, is held at the end of general upper secondary education. Admission to higher education is based on the results in the matriculation examination and entrance tests.
- A determined ‘Autonomy’ has been passed on to the schools for more than the last two decades with governance based on the principle of decentralisation. Education providers are responsible for practical teaching arrangements as well as the effectiveness and quality of the education provided. They also have the freedom to draw their own curriculum.
- Most education and training is publically funded. There are no tuition fees at any level of education. School materials, school meals and commuting are provided free of charge during basic education. As for upper secondary education – Students pay for their books and transport. A well-developed system of study grants and loans is there in addition
- It is indeed admirable to know that Finland falls in the top 10 nations in the OECD – with top scores in PISA.
- Teaching is a much respected and revered profession and entrance to university programs is highly competitive. A prospective teacher must have very good grades and required to combat fierce opposition in order to become a teacher. Only very limited applicants to certain programs are successful. The respect accorded to the profession and the higher salaries lead to higher performing and larger numbers applying for the positions, and this is reflected in the quality of teachers in Finland. Both primary and secondary teachers must have a master’s degree to qualify. Best practices are ensured in selection of a teaching staff. There is absolute trust and self accountability. The system moves on absolute ‘Trust’ with all the Stakeholders. The kind of autonomy teachers have been accorded is equally admirable.
- The classes are held in stress free atmosphere and priority is given to’ Academic Freedom’. The concern is more on the collective good and making sure that every student does well instead of focusing on few in competition, tracking and ranking that every student learns what he needs to learn to do well.
- There are no home works given to the students and they have a shortened classroom time. The emphasis has been focused and shifted in making students happy to freely discover their own individual creative interest whilst integrating the basic academic and learning curriculum like Reading and Writing, Math and Science aside from Language in their day-to-day educational development.
- The last but the least in this visit was – commencing with the arrival, the hospitality extended was exceptional; The first hand experience in the schools visited was magnificent.
Worth mentioning is the informal meet that we had at Jyvaskyla with Ms. Elise Tarvainen, the Director, in such a congenial, cordial and pleasant atmosphere and her ever presence to answer us patiently and bring out the finer points of the visit goes beyond words for praises to her. Her bearing goes full praises in her dispositions with the group members. She has left in our hearts an inerasable mark of camaraderie even in this short duration of our meeting with her.
Words full of profuse praises do go to Ms. Annie who had shown extreme patience and exemplary attitude to hear us all out and accompany us, being with the group throughout the visit with her ever winning smile and pleasant face. I wish to thank her for making our ‘Visits’ really comfortable, enjoyable and memorable. The arrangements were indeed admirable.
For the group, the trip did lay in front visits and jaunts to places of interest in and around Helsinki as a good measure of de-stress and assimilation more of the cultural aspects of Finnish people after their complete hectic involvement!!
Though the duration of the trip was short, it sufficed to go about understanding the stupendous work tailored for a Finnish educational expertise spanning across the globe. The entire time spent was a reckonable and awakening experience, much relished and to be cherished and remembered.
Wishing all the very best to the entire team of EduCluster Finland!
Archana Narain, Principal
The Indian Heights School
New Delhi, India