On February 9, the Embassy of Finland continued its centennial celebration with a seminar about education. The seminar attracted a wide audience, not only because Finland is known for its excellent education system, but also because of the inspiring speakers of the event.
The underlying theme of the event was the future of education which was approached from different viewpoints. The audience first heard from the Might Entrepreneur, Mr. Peter Vesterbacka, former Mighty Eagle of the company that created Angry Birds, Rovio, who is passionate about education. Mr. Vesterbacka emphasized the need for common sense and play when it comes to K-12 education. He is a firm believer that societies should invest in their people and create a workforce full of innovative and creative minds through education. Mr. Vesterbacka pointed out that Finland has succeeded because of its great education system.
A more academic viewpoint on the history of Finnish education system and its success was given by Mr. Samuel E. Abrams, the Director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at the Teachers College in Columbia University. Mr. Abrams began his speech by saying that education is a vehicle of nation building and economic development. He compared Finland’s high scores in the international PISA studies to the scores of its similar sized Nordic neighbors, Sweden, Norway and Denmark. While the latter three score at the same level with the United States, Finland is in its own class. The Finnish score implicate that students are about two years ahead in science. Therefore, in a sense Finland’s educational success should not be dismissed when talking about reforming the education system in the United States. Mr. Abrams has found evidence that one reason for the Finnish success is in teacher pay.
Dr. Taina Wewer, a CLIL class teacher, English Teacher and Teacher Educator from the Teacher Training School in Turku, spoke about the new emphases in the 2016 Finnish National Core Curriculum reform of basic education. Dr. Wewer pointed as key changes, more holistic approach to learning and digitalization for which teachers play an important role as facilitators.Sanna Lukander
Ms. Anu Passi-Rauste moderated a short discussion with Dr. Wewer and Chief of Teaching and Learning of the D.C. Public Schools Mr. Brian Pick. In the discussion, Dr. Wewer and Mr. Pick agreed that teachers are the most valuable components of education when it comes to any kind of change in curriculum and classroom practice. The panelists also agreed that having creative and dedicated teachers inspires the next generation of great teachers.
A more hands on approach on digitalization was given by Ms. Linda Liukas, a programmer and author and illustrator of Hello Ruby books. Ms. Liukas aspires to make programming and technology more accessible for everyone. Through the character Ruby from her books, she has made technology more tangible for young children and their teachers, thus encouraging them from early on to grasp the multiple opportunities that technology can provide.
The event concluded with Ms. Sanna Lukander, the Co-founder and CEO at Fun Academy Ltd. Ms. Lukander introduced the concept of fun learning for early childhood education. Fun learning is based on the idea that children learn through play, and this should be noted in the more formal education as well.
While the speakers approached the topic of education and its future from different angles, all agreed that teachers really matter. For example having technology, iPads, computers, and programming classes as a part of the education does not make education any better, unless you have teachers to actually implement it and have good content available. Needless to say, both the American and Finnish education systems have their benefits and flaws. In the end of the day most agree that education systems are dynamic and they will never be ready.