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A Look into Finnish Education System

A Look into Finnish Education System

This blog post is simply inspired from my dive into a recent online course by ALO Finland on Eliademy about the Finnish Education, titled "Finnish Education 2.0 - Phenomenal Learning and 21st Century Competencies". It was a great opportunity to review teaching and learning practices in schools in Pakistan. I am so greatful to my Course instructor Pirjo Suhonen  for  giving me an opportunity to think about innovative practices and changes that need to be adopted in our education system.

I consider myself blessed enough for being associated for good 22 years (as a student and employee) with a very prestigious institute of our country i.e #Beaconhouse School System. It was great to see a number of innovative practices being already introduced in Beaconhouse.

I would like to begin by sharing what I liked most about the Finnish education system, there are no standardized testing procedures in place, nor do school inspectors visit schools for school inspection or evaluation. Teachers are free to design and use different methods for assessment these include formative, diagnostics and summative. The focus though remains on continuous assessment both by teacher and student.

As far as Pakistan is concerned , most schools have standardized testing procedures, end of exams at the end of every grade, which results in compartmentalizing students in so called grade boxes labeled as A, B , C or D. The students with the highest grades gets the admission in the best college and university. More admissions go to schools that produce the highest grades. There is a fixed mindset but can be changed with time.

The second thing I liked most is how Finnish schools are working towards cultivating creativity, curiosity, innovation among their learners. I believe the introduction of #Phenomenal learning , multi disciplinary learning and 21st century competencies has led to holistic development of the child. The national curriculum has introduced 7 core competencies that support this type of learning. Some of these include thinking to learn skills, ICT, multi literacy, entrepreneurship, cultural competence, interaction and self expression, daily life skills and looking after oneself, and participation, influence and the construction of  sustainable future. 

I see these competences playing a very active role in a child's holistic development. A balanced approach needs to be adopted. Merely focusing on academic results will not work. The above mentioned competencies will help learners to face problems, disappointments, critique , failure with courage, stand up again after every fall, inculcate a belief that failure and success are part of life, value human relationships, take decisions, plan, implement, analyze impact of decisions on own life and others, help and support each other, build each other up etc. These competencies will help them lead a meaningful life in future.

As far as Beaconhouse is concerned, some time back #learner profiles were introduced, which consists of the following attributes creative and  innovative, resolute, analytical, inquisitive, empathetic, globally aware, digitally literate, healthy and active analytical and ethical. All these attributes are introduced at all levels from early years to secondary schools. The attributes are a step towards the holistic development of the child which is some what similar to the  core competencies introduced in the Finnish national curriculum.

In schools in Finland, the concept of the "subject" is rethought, subjects are not studied in isolation but seamlessly infused with other subjects. Along with academic subjects wooden crafts, textiles, music and art are also considered core component of the curriculum. Both academic and non academic experiences are equally important.

It was interesting to read about Phenomenal learning taking place in Finland, which means studying different phenomenon from different perspectives, broadening horizons and providing opportunity for deeper thinking. As a response to my query the Instructor shared a brilliant example, a wider topic world war 2, which could be looked at from historical, economical and geographical perspectives, drama and art could be applied, Charlie Chaplin's speech could be studied about humility etc the phenomenon is the focus and not the artificially division into subjects.

I was thinking how could phenomenal learning be introduced in schools in Pakistan and an idea worth trying came up , what about celebrating 14th August Independence day ? We could encourage kids to come up with ideas to build a deeper understanding of the topic and share our own ideas with them too, for example:

  • Kids could study history and culture of Pakistan
  • They could act out a play to understand the circumstances that lead to the birth of a separate nation for the Muslims. 
  • They could make paintings/drawings to compare present day Pakistan and Pakistan way back in 1947.
  • Compare economy of Pakistan with other growing economies in the world
  • Study the role of technology in Pakistan
  • Analyze the growth in various sectors in any 14 cities of Pakistan.

 Another idea could be a topic like weather:

  • Kids could study scientific reasons for change in weather
  • Study and research health problems related to weather
  • Compare effect of weather in different countries(storms/hurricanes/flash floods etc)
  • Look at financial losses/infrastructure damage in countries due to storms etc
  • Collaborate online with 2 city/countries to plan and develop weather resistant homes for people
  • Look at role of modern technology to forecast weather changes
  • have a painting exhibition to depict effect of weather changes on human life .

Im glad that schools like Beaconhouse have been pioneers in introducing innovations in the field of education. They have introduced programs like IB, PYP, EYE, Discovery Learning ,ELE etc which provides learners with diverse learning experiences. Kids are encouraged to do community work, interact globally with schools, work on different innovative projects related to Science, Technology , Art , participate in different competitions like Spelling Bee etc   The only concern though remains is that this schooling system is accessible to only a small portion of the society. 

The third thing I really liked is that in Finland teachers are highly qualified and hold a master degree and are continuously trained.  Teachers and principals are trusted professionals and have the freedom to choose the best device and practice for their school and children. They have the freedom to experiment with new ideas in their classrooms. Its not total autonomy but teachers make changes while remaining within the boundary lines of the national curriculum. Most schools are so small that teachers know every student. I really liked the idea where 3 teachers of three different sections of the same grade planned to combine three classes in one class. The results were amazing, they shared planning and teaching which resulted in less burden on the individual teacher, more confident teachers emerged, more sharing of ideas took place, learning was more individualized and pupils learned at own pace.

All teachers are not trained or qualified in Pakistan like Finland.  Beaconhouse had taken the initiative many years back to provide professional development opportunities to teachers in the form of training courses, workshops etc. And due to such programs the system has developed strong bonds with known education institutes like Reading University, Marjon University, Cambridge Examination etc. Teachers are encouraged and regularly enrolled in various PD courses every year, to equip them with the new skills and expertise which has resulted in huge positive impact on both teaching and learning taking place in classrooms. Now the system has most qualified and trained staff as compared to other schools in the country.

As far as Pakistan is concerned there is no national curriculum. Rather schools have their own curriculum developed at the head offices by a group of experts, subject specialists. That being one of the main reason for a huge gap that exists between content delivered in schools both in the public sector and the private sector. As per the UN SDG 4 every child deserves the right to quality education, which seems to be missing in our case.

Amidst all this, I am glad that schools like Beaconhouse established almost 40 years back have come with a very strong curriculum, reviewed by a group of experts yearly.

The fourth thing I liked about the Finnish education is that teachers use a variety of methods and tools for enhancing learning in classrooms, these include both traditional resources like the board games, pen/pencils/markers/colors, books and technology tools including tablets, laptops etc which helps catering to diverse needs of learners in a classroom.

I was part of an early years initiative in Beaconhouse some 4 years back called the Enhanced Learning Environment ELE an initiative to introduce technology in the early years to enhance learning in classrooms( through meaningful integration of technology). Teachers had the freedom to make changes, they could choose any method, tools to meet their objectives. These included the multimedia, books, worksheets, colors, pencils, tablets, beebots (programmable devices) , digital microscopes etc which has definitely resulted in active learning experiences in classrooms. 

Amidst all this there is still a lot to do as far as education in schools in Pakistan is concerned. The huge gap between practices in different schools need to be reduced.

Now, the important question is how to introduce the innovative practices in the Finnish education system in schools in Pakistan? one way is educating parent community. Since parents are key stakeholders and need to be fully taken on board before announcing changes. In Pakistan  parent - teacher interaction is through PTMS parent teacher meetings, a better approach could be:

  • parent - student conferences held bi annually in schools, where students give parents a walk through of their projects (think of using the new Google Sites :) )
  • consider having parent - teacher conferences annually, an opportunity to share new initiatives, new projects, change in policy etc
  • a regular school blog could be shared with parents (consider using Blogger :) ) a committee could be formed comprising of a teacher, school head, student and parent.
  • video hangouts quarterly with parents about new initiatives etc could be helpful too ( consider using Google Hangouts) or You Tube Live.

So, lets start thinking how we can bring about this change in schools in Pakistan, a change which aims to prepare students for life and not just exams just like the Finnish system...

Enjoyed reading :)

Take care and regards

Sheeba Ajmal

References:

1. Finnish Education 2.0 - Phenomenal Learning and 21st Century Competencies

   Accessed Online 11th April 2018

2. Beaconhouse School System

    Accessed Online 18th April 2018

3. Eliademy 

    Weblink: www.eliademy.com

    Accessed Online 11th April 2018

4. ALO Finland

     Weblink: https://www.alofinland.com/

    Accessed Online

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