I hope that all in our community have had a restful and rejuvenating holiday. The September holidays are such a beautiful time of the year and, for those who have little to do, it is great to be able to enjoy the sunshine and take time to relax. It is, however, a time when we have groups of students and teachers enjoying overseas adventures, pilgrimages, and other learning opportunities as well.
For those students who ventured to Japan, I trust you found the experience one that broadened your knowledge and understanding of other cultures and lifestyles, and provided you time to reflect upon and compare a different way of life to yours. For our pilgrims who have experienced some time in Italy, following in Francis’s footsteps, I know that you will have been somewhat transformed. I have been on two Pilgrimages to Italy, visiting the places of Francis and Clare – it is something that all Franciscans should do; it is life changing. For others who have travelled, I hope that you too have learnt something by experiencing a new and unique culture, then have come home feeling blessed. The ability to be able to travel abroad, and then to come back to a country that is safe yet diverse, is a joy. I know I appreciate and am grateful for all that I have here.
During the break, I was extremely privileged to be able to travel to Finland on a Study Tour. Having read and heard much about the high quality Finnish education system, thanks to the Association of which I am President (Adolescent Success), I joined a group of seventeen other educators from around Australia and New Zealand to immerse myself into Finland’s schools, and to hear from Finnish principals, teachers, students, and other educators as to how they manage to develop young people who are totally focused on their own learning and success and as such, how they continue to perform so well on a global scale.
For me, this tour was also transformational.
We can learn so much from this educational system. In a small country of 5.5 million people that became independent of Russia just 100 years ago, where there are few resources other than their people, where the temperatures are extreme – “they know how to live with winter and the midnight sun”- they excel in the health and education of their children.
Finland now - Nordic welfare society
1. Is the most stable and safest country in the world
2. Has the best governance in the world
3. Has the third least corruption in the world
4. Mothers' and children's well-being in Finland is the second best in the world
5. We borrow more books from library than anywhere else
6. We also have more saunas, drink more coffee and milk than any other nation
7. Finland has the best overall education system in the world
All from the following references:
1. Fragile States Index 2017 , World Economic Forum, The Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2017
2. Legatum Institute, The Legatum Prosperity Index 2017: Finland
3. Transparency International, Corruption Perceptions Index 2016
4. Save the Children, State of the World´s Mothers 2015, 16th annual report
6. International Coffee Organisation, Coffee Trade Statistics Dairy Nutrition Council, Milk consumption in the world in 2015
7. World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report 2017
We learnt about the system itself. Preschools are organised around play-based learning only; children don’t begin grade 1 until they are seven; they then attend comprehensive school which is Grade 1 – 9; followed by Upper Secondary, either general or vocational school for Grade 10-12. During comprehensive school a student’s curriculum is broad. They all study Finnish, English, and Swedish, they do Maths, PE, Science, Crafts, Music, Art, Religion/Ethics, with school hours starting from 20 hours per week, to 24 hours. The national curriculum is child-centred, with a strong focus on well-being. Classes are 45 minutes in length, followed by a fifteen-minute break. This is the norm throughout the schools.
Upper Secondary schools are organised like universities. Students choose their own schedules based on a number of compulsory courses and others they may undertake. They must do 75 courses from the suite of courses offered. (A course is approximately seven weeks). A number of these compulsory courses are project-/phenomenon-based and focus on entrepreneurial skills. All study English and Finnish (mother tongue), and most study another language as well.
Students can choose to go to a General Upper Secondary or Vocational school to ensure that they are able to transition into the most appropriate pathway for them on completion. Learners at this level are highly independent, they take responsibility for their shortfalls, and strive to be successful as they progress. Parents play a minimal role in their child’s education at this stage of learning. The only high stakes tests that are undertaken are the matriculation exams that students choose to do on completion of their final year. They can choose from four to seven exams, but some do more. They have more than one opportunity to achieve in these.
Teachers are highly trusted to be the experts, having total autonomy, developing programs of learning based on the national curriculum; they develop their own testing instruments and report results to parents regularly. More importantly, they have their students reflect upon their work, providing regular feedback and having discussions about progress and learning.
This is just a snapshot of what I saw and learnt. We visited five different schools but, in all of them, the culture of learning was palpable, students were relaxed, yet engaged and focused.
There were many aspects that I could relate to our college. We too are inclusive and believe in equality, with a strong focus on wellbeing. We too focus on the whole child. We believe in a broad curriculum and encourage our students to be diverse.
There were many things I have taken away from this learning experience, and I am looking forward to exploring ways of working here with our girls. Whilst much of the success of Finland is in the policies they have set, much too is in the modes of learning, their focus on creating independent and resilient learners by having a student-centred approach. I have spoken about our systems here at Mt A, and feel very affirmed that we are doing the best for our girls. I know too that we should always be learning, always be aiming for greater things, by learning and growing for the future – as our Learning and Teaching Framework explicitly states. This learning experience will assist me to work in my role of Student Learning to continue to build the capacity of our girls. I am excited to put some strategies into practice over the coming months.