Kirkkonummi 10 Times Fast
We said goodbye to Helsinki after a short 18 hours and visited the Education Department at Kirkkonummi City Hall. 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. Topics included the three layers of education (national, municipal, school) and the National Core Curriculum.
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.
After the presentation, 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 (grades1-4) and small in the upper grades (grades 5-12). Kids were on their iPhones (brought from home) in every class but the technology used by teachers or available in the classroom was pretty minimal in this wealthy school. I was happy to see that kids are kids (one even sang Adele’s “Hello” to me as I approached him and his friends in the hallway) wherever you go.
Turku and a Restaurant Run by Kids
The next day, we met with the Education Department for the city of Turku. She explained that students are given choices, voices, and support at every step of their educational career. Every student is given "special education," meaning that each student has a specialized plan to help them reach their goals. When gaps are identified, they are tackled with laser-like focus until they cease to exist. The head of Basic Education in Turku explained that Finnish students do well on the PISA not because their top students are the smartest but because their weakest students get the support they need, and as a result, the country as a whole does better than other countries.
The following day, we had lunch at the Turku Vocational Restaurant called Taito. This restaurant is run by students and gives kids experience and skills as managers, waitresses, hostesses, bussers and chefs. They also get to practice their English and social skills. This restaurant is beautiful, the food was great, and it is open to the public.
Next, we visited a school where students speak more than 20 different languages and in a community where refugees and transient cultures seek stability. This is not the norm in Finland, so this particular school is learning as they go. While the staff admits that they are challenged by the diversity in their school, they are proud of the work they do with kids and embrace the differences. One way they do this is by putting all their resources into providing support in the “mother tongue” as well as building up the second language (Finnish). In the classrooms I observed, it was common to see at teacher “assistant” that worked with a small number of students in their native language (Arabic, Roma, Russian, Prussian, Swedish, etc.) as they worked towards completing tasks in the second language (Finnish).
You Know What They Say About Assumptions
As our trip came to an end, Kelly and I were left to reflect on the assumptions we held prior to our visit to Finland. It’s not an exhaustive list, but here’s what we now know for sure:
This Place Fits: Anyone interested in learning about the top performing students in the world (or with an affinity for reindeer meat).
Where to Stay:
Original Sokos Hotel Helsinki
Sokos Hotel Hamburger Börs
Where to Eat:
Herrankukkaro- a 30 minute drive from Turku with the world's largest smoke sauna and traditional Finnish fare.
Wärdshus- delicious restaurant in Fiskars Village
Oscar Pub and Grill- for the very best gin and tonic made with Finland's own award-winning gin, Napue, lingonberries and rosemary.
What to Do:
Turku Castle- over 700 year old monument.
Helsinki Design District- see Marimekko textiles and beautiful Iittala tableware.
The WaterLoo- a British pub that used to be a public lavatory for the Turku Bus Station.
Fiskars Village- of the orange-handled scissors fame.
For a more in-depth look at the Finnish school system from an educator's perspective, please visit the original post at http://www.eagleschools.net/finland-blog
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