I was just reading Ewan McIntosh’s post about Finland, and his discussion about why they seem to be so ahead of the game with regards to education. While I haven’t read about Finland extensively myself, it’s no secret that they are world leaders when it comes to education. Ewan brings to light some key points -namely the flexibility that students and teachers have, and the trust that is placed with them, using a particular Helsinki secondary school as an example.

Some points that particularly stuck with me were:

  • No two timetables are the same… There are core lessons, but also huge flexibility… They do 90 courses over three years, in 14 of which they are free to do as they wish – if a student wants to fill it entirely with maths or art, that can be done.
  • Another factor in the school’s quietly productive feel is the structuring of the day into three two-hour periods (similar to Stovner School’s two four hour seshes).
  • Classes can sometimes have students of different ages.
  • As I read through these points, I was reminded of some of the comments Stephen Downes made during his session with us around the network approach to learning, and the idea that what counts as “good” varies from person to person. He discussed how the wisdom of networks is people doing things their own way, rather than trying to come to aggregation of ideas. It seems to me this is somewhat the approach taken by students and teachers in this school. No two timetables are the same…isn’t that an interesting concept?

    And students of different ages may be in different classes? Another interesting concept. Under our current structures having students in multi-grade settings usually poses a huge challenge for teachers, although I know from my experience there is great potential in them. As always, curriculum, timetabling, physical environment, etc. seem to hamper efforts at innovation. And yet, this Helsinki secondary has clearly tackled some of these issues, with apparent success.

    I think one of the most telling points made, though, was the following:

  • Pupils lead and teachers play a supporting role.
  • Again, not a new concept, but one that really scares us as educators. I loved the question Stephen posed to us when he started his presentation, “How do you teach when you no longer have power over the students?”. I would love to throw that out to a group of educators and see what kind of discussion ensues. I think it needs to happen, sooner than later.