Educational visit to Finland, October 2016; Key points to be shared

Amanuel Yossief

Introduction                     

The educational visit to Finland was aimed at exposing Eritrean educators to the educational developments achieved by the Finnish educational system thereby share and acquire experiences. The shortly and intensively scheduled visit was prompted and funded by the Finn Church Aid (FCA). FCA carries out diaconal work service in the world.It was established in 1947 and has been working hard to bring peace, improve lifestyle and promote quality education in the world. It is the largest Finnish NGO and second largest provider of humanitarian assistance in Finland. FCA colleagues were highly hospitable and good companions to Eritrean educators in Helsinki and Jyvaskyla. The learning schedule they had sketched was inspirational. The one week study tour and the leisure time for enjoyable activity wereall memorable. I, among other educators, was the beneficiary of this opportunity.

 

My initial intention was to present a research paperin the conference ‘Education Africa’ organized by the University of Jyvaskyla. The paper was about ensuring the relevance of the pedagogy of our teacher education through action research. In addition to this, I was ambitious to encounter with new learning environments that is fundamentality different from my previous experiences. Such exposure was a privilege for an educator from the south visiting to the most north part of the world.

Following are themes identified as most essential areas that I would like to share with my colleagues in ACCE.They are general points summed up from the various encounters with the Finnish experts, teachers, students, colleagues etc. keeping personal diaries from the onset of the visit, Photos taken at different moments, the discussions held with various considerate ones and written materials acquired were all instrumental for critical reflections.

  1. Promoting quality through Pedagogical innovations

The Finnish system of education has achieved a lot in promoting student’s learning and ensuring quality. I had the chance to have the general picture of the Finnish system of education from meetings carried out with the general director of curriculum planning and other education counselors of the Finnish National Board of Education (FNBE). These meetings enabled me to conclude that the FNBEis determined to make extra efforts in transforming their education system.

The Finnish education system considers Core Curriculum as a tool for development. It puts the students at the ‘center’ of the education system. It believes that the underlying understanding of education is equity. And also it believes on “No dead-ends in education system”.Curriculum is open for reform and is done transparently engaging many others interested via various channels. Reform for curriculum has stressed on the move “from what to learn to how to learn”. It views the concept of learning from multidisciplinary learning and cross-curricular activity.

The Finnish National Core Curriculum emphasize on the provision of strong individual support that is the base for comprehensive and non-selective education. The Basic Education Act provides opportunity to extra and sufficient support for learning and school attendance.  In order to accomplish these intentions, the FNBE has been preparing strategies. And to implement these strategies, continuous in-service training for teachers and support for municipalities was given. Schools are supported by psychology counselors, social service and health care professionals who in collaboration with teachers and parents give general, intensified and special support for students. Remedial teaching that gives extra efforts to students with learning difficulties is part of the strategy.

Paradigm shift is going on in the process of internationalization of education in Finland. Awareness and appreciation of cultural diversity has been topical. Support for internationality started in mid 1990s. Internationality, multilingualism for example, is considered across the entire Core Curriculum.The Finnish curriculum has considered the following areas that need to be developed further:

  • Learning environment
  • Working culture, methods, and pedagogy
  • Teacher-cooperation
  • Evaluation
  • Use of ICT

 

  1. Research-oriented learning and contribution to global education

 Educators from Eritrea and other countries were invited to explore the University of Jyvaskyla’s premises.It is constructed in a pedagogic way. After I presented my paper, I had the opportunity to meet with experts who took part in the conference ‘Education Africa’ held in the University. I was able to learn that professional endeavors need to be a life-long learning. Members of the University community were engaged in self and co-operative learning through research. And I learned the fact that engagement in research activities promotes the learning process of professionals. All of the experts I met were contributors to the development of their profession and are always informed by new research findings. In connection with this, many of the experts were highly interested in the ‘Global Education’ that was a new phenomenon to me. The conference Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 4) was eye-opening that raised various issues pertinent to human life. The presentations made on Global Education Monitoring Report , the discussion held on the ‘ambitious’ Goals of sustainable development, the various presentations of researches on global educational issues were all educative. Such insights have informed me to widen my knowledge and make contribution to global Education phenomena through research activities.

  1. Finnish teacher’s and learner’s characteristics

Wewere invited to visit primary and lower and upper secondary schools –Kaivoksela and Esponlahti respectively. The learning atmosphere of these schools was clean and cozy. The well-equipped and appealing classrooms were made live by the creative and passionate nature of teachers. Enrollment in the teacher education program and in the teaching profession is highly competitive. The teacher’s ‘behavior’ was instigating.They were not attracted to be teachers by the salary paid. Finnish teachers have average income. They are intrinsically motivated and they have high respect from the government and the society.They are competent, responsible and trusted professionals. Their main role is promoting society’s responsibilities to learn that ultimately lead to a positive learning and working culture. Their commitment to make a difference on students’ learning was inspiring.

I had the chance to see English classes of first, second and fourth graders and also mathematics class of ninth graders. The culture of learningwas quite striking. The particular classrooms I observed were reflecting the efforts and investments made by the government, parents and teachers.

The methods of teaching employed by teachers were letting students to be active, cooperative and autonomous. Teachers were not bossy but were busy organizing and facilitating various activities.The classroom environment was not tense and students had the freedom to act, choose and respond to activities given. The activities were inviting for participation and the teachers’ approaches paved the way for students’ responsibility to learn. Students’ self-awareness, self-esteem and self-confidence that are decisive for effective learning were clearly observable. The role of teachers in promoting such ‘qualities’ was stirring. This was the result of teachers’ effort in ensuring good rapport, respect, motivation and care given to students. I had the chance to closely observe and talk with some second and fourth grade students who were polite and friendly. Their writing, reading and communication skills were excellent.

  1. Effective use of learning resources

The two schools we visited were rich with learning resources. Such resources include the colorful textbooks, books, stationeries, black, whiteand smart boards, lab tops, laboratories, wood and metal workshops, sport fields, etc. The impact of these resources on students learning is tremendous and was noticeable. They enabled them to be proactive and creative students. But it seems to me that the role of teachers in creating positive and conducive learning environment is much more relevant than the resources and technologies available.However, the Finnish Core Curriculum considers the use of ICT as a prerequisite for effective learning and is giving much attention in developing it further in the future.

In connection with the use of technology in education, the effort made by Lyfta digital learning company was impressive. Their educational venture and creativity is instructive. We had the opportunity to share ideas and experiences with the experts. As an educator, they have instigated me to investigate my environment that is data-rich using technologies and impart emotive messages on students and community. They also taught me that technological knowledge and skill is indispensable in research, teaching and learning endeavors.

Amanuel Yossief, 35, is an instructor at the Asmara Community School

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