Re-designing education in Finland for the 21st Century

Finland has achieved remarkable success as a high-performing and inclusive education system. But what needs to be done to design a system that will serve the country well in the 21st Century?

Last Friday I joined a workshop in Helsinki organised by Esko Aho, former PM of Finland and his colleague Marco Steinberg, with special guest speaker Prof. Paul Reville, Director of Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Education Redesign Lab, to contribute to the debate on designing a new solution.

Right question

I was enthusiastic about participating because this question is exactly right, and not only for Finland. Sanoma Learning is keen to take a leading role in co-developing and operating new learning solutions and systems. And it’s inspiring to learn from the experience of experts with a passion for education and learning – not only Prof. Reville and Dr. Steinberg – but also the other talented people who joined from amongst others Sitra, Tekes, the City of Helsinki and other companies and institutions.

Revving up the Engine

Prof. Paul Reville, Director of Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Education Redesign Lab I was especially interested to hear Prof. Reville’s vision on the key areas that should be addressed by a future proof solution (or in his words, Human Capital Development Engine for K-12):

  1. To individualise/personalise/customise education such that each pupil emerges from school ready for meaningful employment and 21st Century citizenship
  2. To develop each child holistically including their health and well-being, looking not only at academic performance but also supporting disadvantages such as poverty, mental and social disadvantage and so on.
  3. To significantly increase out-of-school learning opportunities (80% of a child’s time is out of school, making the school environment itself a relatively weak intervention) including such things as summer school, tutoring, sporting, music and art and so on, especially for the less advantaged.

But what are the answers to these challenges? And how to realise change in such a complex environment as education, with many stakeholders?

Advice to Government?

We workshopped on what our advice would be to the new government in Finland on creating the next generation education system. The most important themes that emerged from the discussion (probably not the formal standpoints of any of the organisations represented) were:

  1. To enable the personalisation of learning: developing the talents of every child
  2. To train teachers for 21st Century teaching and learning
  3. To create strategic ownership for the change

How to personalise?

Looking specifically at suggestions that arose from the discussion to government on how to enable personalisation, the main themes were:

  1. To digitalise and personalise the curriculum
  2. To further develop the role and skills of the teacher
  3. To change the organisational model, enabling formal and informal learning, both within and outside the school.

Doing it on purpose at Sanoma Learning

I learned a lot about the design of education systems and about Finland during the day and was inspired by the outcomes of the discussions. I also felt that our purpose at Sanoma Learning – “to enable teachers to develop the talents of every child” is consistent with the described future proof model (or at least the role we can play in it), and that the investments and changes we are making to support this purpose are in the right direction.

Looking forward >>

After the meeting, I have the impression that on the level of the education system, i) bringing strategic ownership to leading the change ii) enabling the skills, pedagogical, curriculum, technology, organisational and cultural change iii) finding a transformational approach for schools from the standardised to the personalised model (it will take years and will not “flip” overnight) and iv) investing in and implementing the change at the right pace, will be harder challenges than concepting the “engine” itself. It’s not going to be a quick-and-easy transformation journey, but if we get it right, we could make a huge positive impact on the learning of our next generation.

Thanks to the team for organising an inspiring day!

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