The Secrets of the Finnish Educational System: Learning from the Best by Alero Ayida-Otobo June 8, 2012A Unique Learning ExperienceA dynamic group of 8 passionate professional women, members of the Education Reform Team (ERT), setout from Nigeria and the United Kingdom in April 2012 on a 5-day learning journey to Finland. One of themreturned in less than three weeks with another group of 5 Government officials from Cross River State, astate at the fore-front of change in Nigeria. Two Learning Journeys to the same country in three weeks. Youmay be wondering why?The reason – Finland Works! This is the title of a beautiful book that we bought at the airport on our firstvisit. It captures the substance, the spirit and the character of the Finnish. Their education system works.There are certain key words that describe the system – ‘equity’; ‘quality’; ‘efficiency’ and one of ourfavourite ‘no dead-ends’. The educational system gives equal opportunity to every child and adult to developtheir potential and become all they were destined to be.The word ‘equity’ rings through the education plans for most countries – it’s at the centre for the UnitedNations global campaign “Education for All” but it is in Finland that I have seen the true implementation ofthis vision and aspiration. Every child regardless of place of birth – urban or rural; regardless of social status;regardless of race or creed – once you live in Finland you have undeniable and unfettered access to qualityeducation. This for us was a key takeaway – the implementation of education as a basic human right for all.A person is educated in his/her own time, according to his/her own self development. A child has the rightto learn in the way that he/she can best learn in a qualitative environment. And we bear witness to the factthat it is this exceptional quality education that continuously puts Finland ahead of many nations in theglobal economy. It has made Finland number one in international comparisons (Programme for InternationalStudent Assessment – PISA 2000 and 2009 ).The 5-Day Learning Journey delivered by EduCluster Finland Limited is a Learning experience with adifference. You feel the heart of the nation – the love for life-long learning, the professionalism and passionof the teachers; the excellent content of the curriculum; the unique delivery of guidance and counselling inschools; the excellent management of schools by school leadership and the joy in the classroom of thechildren who thrive in a child-centred environment. This is not teaching in the 19th and 20th century – this islearning. At the centre is the child; the young adult; the matured adult – the Learner.Bolaji Osime aptly described what we saw as “an extraordinary and innovative educational system”. While agovernment official from Cross River State, Professor Owan-Enoh, observed that “Finland is the first countryI have come across that has turned all the theories I have learnt into reality”.Another ERT member, Folasade Adefisayo in a profound and reflective manner said “for me, the Finnishexperience was a paradigm-changing and epochal event in my life. I am not using hyperboles for the sake ofusing these words but I need to explain myself. Before I went to Finland, I was of the school that believed intesting and rewarding teachers according to the performance of their students. I have done a 360 degreeturnaround. I still believe that testing is essential but I believe that we should do more formative rather thansummative (exams and end of period tests). Formative assessments would involve the quality of the teacher-student interaction made evident in the questions asked by both, reflection on learning and progress, teamwork and collaboration and a general belief in equity and the right of every child to receive a good education.I still believe that we really need to train and re-skill our teachers. The content of their training will now bekey”.So what did we learn about teacher education that was so impactful.Coming from a country where teachers are not highly regarded or adequately motivated and rewardedthere are some very key qualities of the teachers in Finland that immediately strike you as unique. Firstly,the undeniable desire and passion for well qualified, intelligent people to be teachers rather than doctors orlawyers.Secondly, the competition for places is stiff with Jyvaskyla University having over 2,800 applications for 80places. This is the complete reverse for Nigeria where several Colleges of Education do not have enoughapplications from interested students and many come into education as a last resort because they could notget onto any other course. In Finland the teachers have strong academic qualifications with the minimumqualification being a Masters degree (except at the Early Childhood level). In Nigeria it is the NationalCertificate of Education (NCE) which is lower than a first degree.
Finland has built world class teacher education programs and teachers are reasonably well paid. But the truedifference “is that teachers in Finland may exercise their professional knowledge and judgement both widelyand freely in their schools. They control curriculum, student assessment, school improvement, andcommunity involvement”. Many are drawn to the profession by its “compelling societal mission and itscondition of autonomy and support”. (Sahlberg, P (2011) “Finnish Lessons: What can the world learn fromeducational change in Finland”).Another major learning point as observed by another participant, Olusola Adeola, is the“’Professionalization’ of every career path and lifelong learning. We learned that every vocation and careerhas become a profession, from the cook in a restaurant, to the professor in a university. Every job has aneducation path. This speaks to close collaboration between the job market and the education system, whichis also a reflection of the collaborative nature of the system”.Imo Oyewole reflecting on her experience declared that, “One of the highlights of the tour for me wasvisiting the ‘World Skills Competition’ where I saw a demonstration of excellence in action both on the part ofthe organizers and the participants and where the atmosphere was charged with the feeling of satisfaction!Students satisfied with their choices and having been taught well! And a labor market satisfied with theprospect of employable citizens. And because theirs is a system of life-long learning, this satisfaction can onlybe temporary as improvements and upgrades must continue in every sphere and dimension”. This I believe isVocational Education at its best.Another quality worth mentioning is what Olusola Adeola so eloquently commended – “how the Finnisheducation system reflects the needs, culture and value system of the Finns. This is inspiring me to dreamabout what a Nigerian education system would look like. What are our strengths and values as Nigeria? Howdo we draw from our diversity, from our history and our people? How do we design an education system,applying similar principles but reflecting a Nigerian education, one that would attract foreigners to Nigeria tounderstudy the Nigerian education system? This is one of our tasks as reformers”.Imo points out that “the Finns decided 30 years ago to embark on a journey to reform their education sectorwith the child at the center of their vision, they committed to changing whatever was required to be changed(from laws, policies, methods to infrastructure) and now Finland has become the Jerusalem to which theworld flocks in order to glean from their remarkable success story!Because of their selflessness (not seeking personal gains, applaud or recognition) they were able to lay outlong term plans and were satisfied with taking small but calculated steps towards the overall goal”.Our dream for Nigeria as summarized by Toju Chike-Obi “is that the Education Reform Team can implementwhat we learned in Finland so that equitable access to quality education is guaranteed for every child”.Abby Olufeyimi summarizes most beautifully our views on the Finnish Educational system. The system worksfor the Child…for it is child centered. This is a nation that values her children. The child is an individual andvalued as one.It works for the drop out….even those who are at the margin of society, and simply drop out of the systemare followed up and encourage to reintegrate because they have value. And because they have value …thereis something they can still contribute and something to benefit from, the door is always open . . . they haveaccess.It works for the teacher…who from the moment she starts the application process to train, becomingprofessional, is valued and is a life- long learner.It works because there are no DEAD-ENDS.It works because government has made education it’s priority…government has devolved ‘power’ to themunicipals, schools, teachers and students.It works because from working together…trust has been built and so it Works for all.It works because it did not always work. . .it did not work over night….a 30 year journey of working reworking and discovery…That is the uniqueness of the System described by Catherine Bickersteth as “a beautiful tapestry of FinnishEducation”.Thank you, EduCluster for helping us to see further than we have seen before. Thank you for the NewHorizons that have opened up for us. Thank you for a worthwhile, heart warming, mind-shifting learningexperience! Information about Alero Ayida-Otobo Alero Ayida-Otobo, Co-ordinator, Education ReformTeam firstname.lastname@example.org