Dr. Marjo Kyllönen is a Head of Development Unit, Education division, in the City of Helsinki. Her expertise is on future school and leadership and she has been developing the concept of ‘future schools’ and its role and prospect in the society. Dr. Kyllönen is an expert in the field of education and is a special guest in our blog series about the development of #skills21 in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Finland is perceived as one of the most innovative countries around the world. Our education system is unique, and we believe that it is key to our success. Education is highly valued and built on trust. You can see it as well in our policy-making processes as how the private sector emphasizes its value. Our core values are equality and equity. To nurture these values, we offer equal opportunities for all citizens to get the highest quality education irrespective of their background. This is not only for the success of the individuals but also for our society. We believe that to sustain our social values and succeed in the future, we cannot deplete the potential of our youth and children.
Spring 2020 was exceptional for all of us. Due to the coronavirus epidemic, schools were closed in Finland and switched almost entirely to remote learning for 38 days. Teachers as well as students developed new innovative ways to work and interact. The digital leap was real and prominent. Thanks to our well-established ICT infrastructure, we were able to switch fully to online instruction in just two days.
I believe this rapid transition was possible because of our teachers’ high level of professionalism, ethics, and commitment to quality education. Everyone wanted the pupils to succeed and were ready to leave their comfort zone to explore new ways of teaching. Although we have used ICT in our schools for decades, for most of our teachers it was still a huge leap from their usual way of teaching. It required long working days, guts to try something completely new, and most of all, the collaboration, co-creation, and co-learning with colleagues that can pose an additional challenge. Co-teaching-model in particular was very successful which had two teachers form a team, plan, teach, and assess students together. It enabled teachers to divide tasks into areas of responsibility and forge their strengths, while taking care of their own wellbeing.
In addition, digital tools and a virtual platform assisted immensely the transition to distance learning. Laptops and Google Classroom have worked well as tools for phenomenon-based and game-based teaching, where students have completed assignments through teamwork. A teacher described a typical school day during remote learning: “It began by getting together via Google Meet. When recurring issues are covered, new topics are taught in mathematics, for example. The students then move onto digital or textbook-based assignments and can ask for help from either class teachers or the special teachers present, who cover multidisciplinary subjects. Either teachers or students can share their videoconferencing view, in which the discussion resembles an in-person instruction.”
Nevertheless, there were also challenges. At the end of this remote learning period, we asked our teachers, students and parents about their experiences. In terms of academic performance, most of the children and young ones did well; some even did better than in face-to-face learning. Yet, the exceptional learning and teaching arrangements challenged the equality and equity in education. The students that were already in need for additional support had difficulties to cope. There was also a growing demand for pupils’ guidance and welfare services. For younger learners, families played a particularly crucial role in their academic support.
From the experience of remote learning, we were able to clearly identify that the school’s role is more than just to equip our children and young ones with the academic skills needed in their life. What the teachers and learners missed most was the social interaction and the experience of being part of the class – school – society. Before closing this school term, we opened our elementary schools for two weeks in mid-May. One may question whether this was necessary. And indeed, it was! You could find the happy faces of school kids everywhere in Helsinki. It was also an important period to check how the children were doing, ensuring their wellbeing, and to plan for the support in the following academic year.
In our strategy, the whole city is a learning environment – so they utilise it. Learning happens everywhere and all the places are learning places. In practice, this means that whole the city administration and departments are committed to developing and offering learning experiences to all learners. Also, the private and civil society stakeholders are involved. Our school kids, students and even kindergarten children, go out to the city to explore and learn. We develop services with other city stakeholders, for example museums, libraries, art exhibitions to open learning places and offer interesting experiences to our children and young ones.
For us, the smart learning environment offered throughout the city of Helsinki is a pedagogical transformation. It does not simply replace traditional books and pencils with technology; it embraces a new pedagogical approach and understanding. In this increasingly fast-changing and diverse world, we should ask ourselves what is worth learning, how, and why. We know that preparing students with technical skills or academic knowledge alone will not be enough for them to achieve success, connectedness, and well-being. Today and in the future, the transversal skills become more and more essential to the success of individuals as well the societies. We need to prepare our children with advanced cognitive and non-cognitive skills, such as creativity, citizenship, holistic learning, curiosity, flexibility, positivity, and resilience.
We cannot predict the future, but we can create it, and education is the most powerful tool to do so. Education builds up societies. It plays a crucial role promoting the wellbeing and sustainable development of our communities. Well-established education, which has equality and equity as its core values, is crucial for the sustainability and success of our societies. These exceptional times have shown us, how important it is to focus not only on academic achievements but first and most on our children’s social and emotional wellbeing. COVID-19 has challenged our everyday routine and education practices. It has also clarified the importance of good quality education for all regardless of their background. The decisions we make today will shape tomorrow. The way we teach and educate our children today reflects the future of our society. Education is never a cost. It is an investment to the Future. Let us make wise investments!
Find out in our latest publication how Finland, along with countries like South Korea, Uruguay, Estonia, and the United States, transformed their education systems through widely, but not exclusively, incorporating technology and better respond to COVID-19. Stay tuned for our book launch webinar on September 29 and follow our blog series on education and #skills21 in times of coronavirus. Read the first entry of the series here.
What can Latin American and the Caribbean countries learn from the Finnish experience in moving to emergency remote learning? Share your opinion with us in the comments section below, or in Twitter mentioning @BIDEducacion #EnfoqueEducacion.