More Alike Than We Think

Today, we said goodbye to Helsinki (after just a short 18 hours) and visited the Education Department at Kirkkonummi City Hall. Mr. Mikael Flemmic, the Head of Early Childhood and General Education (aka Superintendent) spoke with us about curricula, Boards, and what he considers challenges and successes of the Finnish educational system. He discussed the three layers of education (national, municipal, school) in Finland and the National Core Curriculum and explained how the National Core Curriculum is a thin (although they would like it to be thinner) set of learning outcomes for students set by the National Board of Education. Within those frameworks, local curricula is developed, and within that, schools develop their own curricula. Teachers then determine the tasks and necessary methods to meet the goals of the developed curricula. To me, this was strikingly similar to the way we approach curriculum in ECS. We have the Common Core State Standards and the Colorado Academic Standards (Common Core plus some) set forth by the state. We have our ECS Units of Study that are developed from the standards and then teachers apply the methods and tasks. Mr. Flemmic made a big point to say that how the curriculum is taught is always up to the teachers.

In addition to curriculum, we learned how much Kirkkonummi supports the “mother tongue”, Swedish. Since the community is more than 5% Swedish speaking, they are required, by law, to offer education in both Swedish and Finnish. They embrace the native language of their students and support the development of both languages in the early grades before adding on another language (or two!) in fourth grade and higher. This reminded me a lot of our shift towards dual language. 

After the presentation by Mr. Felmmic, we took a bus to Winellska School to visit both the comprehensive level (ages 7-15) and upper secondary school (ages 16-18). Class sizes were large (25-30) in the lower grades (1-4) and small in the upper grades (5-12). Kids were on their iPhones (brought from home) in every class and the technology used by teachers or available in the classroom was pretty minimal in this wealthy school. Kids were kids (one sang Adele’s “Hello” to me as I approached him and his friends in the hallway) but behavior didn’t seem to be an issue. They were in rows, for the most part. As for teachers, we saw them teaching the whole class from the front of the classroom. As the 20 people in our group paraded into each classroom, I wished we could stay longer (and be in smaller groups) to see a whole lesson, talk more to kids, or speak with teachers.
Today, we are scheduled to be in another school, and on Thursday we will get to go to two more. I can’t wait to see what trends might emerge and have more time to see instruction.

The big take-away for me today was that there are some striking similarities between our system in ECS and the Finnish Education System and while we have a lot to learn, they may have some things to learn from us as well.


Special Needs

I am curious how they integrate special needs students into the regular classroom....

Hi, Shiloy! It's interesting.

Hi, Shiloy! It's interesting. The Finnish see all students as "special needs" at some point in their education, so they are always integrated. Students who struggle because of special needs or language appeared to receive support through a co-teacher or "assistant" within the regular classroom. I often saw classrooms with 2-3 adults, all of whom were offering support to kids who needed it.

Tech question

So exciting to read all of your updates! What kind of things were they doing with their iPhones in class?

Hi, Brooke! Kids were looking

Hi, Brooke! Kids were looking up information. They seemed to like Wikipedia a lot! Teachers didn't provide what I'd call "Google-able" information, so kids were responsible for finding what they needed to complete tasks. Teachers were there to answer the questions kids had that they couldn't find on their phones. Of course, some kids were on Facebook or YouTube at some point, but most used the technology appropriatly and the teachers didn't seem to fell like it was an issue.