Helsinki: First impressions 

It’s calm, it’s clean, it’s green and there are lakes everywhere.

I arrived in Helsinki on Sunday and was immediately struck by the calm, even at the airport, and those words don’t usually go together. Yet the theme continues… it seems things run pretty smoothly in Finland where even the capital city walks at an easy pace.

Suitcase in tow, I followed some mysterious directions to a brightly painted jungle tunnel to be greeted by a very lovely host family. So far so good!

So what am I doing in Helsinki?

That’s a good question!

I’m an English teacher from the UK and I’m here in Helsinki because I was lucky enough to secure funding from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust (www.wcmt.org.uk) to explore how the Finnish education system so regularly tops the charts of international education leagues. I’ll be inquiring into questions such as:

What is so great about Finnish education? 

Are there any great differences between Finnish and British pedagogy?

How do teachers structure their lessons?

What do teachers do in the classroom in practice? 

What characterises the students’ attitudes to learning?

How do the Finns train their teachers?

What is the Finnish educational vision?

And many more…

Please see my first blog post for more information about how I came to be here and to find a link to the WCMT website. If you’d like to travel somewhere to conduct your own research in a particular area, they may well enable you to do so.

Exploring the Lukio

On Monday morning, I found my way to the Lukio (high-school) and, again, I was instantly struck by the placid atmosphere. Walking into the building, there are open spaces full of squashy sofas and armchairs where students are chatting or working. It’s quite a lovely feeling to be in a school where hardly anyone is rushing and the teachers are smiling, showing few signs of stress and overwork. Is it too good to be true?! Watch this space…

In the lessons I visited, I found a relaxed, purposeful mood – students use electronic devices at their leisure and teachers are referred to by their first names. Now, I am in a high school for 16-19 year olds for this week, but I am told the use of teachers’ first names is common practice throughout Finland and, despite being GCSE to A-level-age in UK terms (years 11 to 13), homework is not mandatory and takes roughly 20-30 minutes per subject but that depends on the teacher – some do not set any at all and they are under no obligation to. It remains to be seen how this affects their individual progress and I shall endeavour to find out more in this vein.

Chatting to the teachers in the staff room, I have found their reactions to some commonplace aspects of British education a pleasant surprise. During a discussion of teaching observations and the function of Ofsted in the UK, one teacher exclaimed, “Observations? By who?” Then ensued a stream of questions from the stunned teacher, who couldn’t imagine who would be observing you, why they would do so, what they would be looking for or what they might intend to do with the information. Several others had many questions and were sad to hear of the introduction of performance-related pay and low-teacher morale that characterises UK education. The teachers I have spoken to so far in Helsinki are content with their autonomy; it represents quite a different outlook compared to the culture of performance management and work scrutiny found across the UK. I’m looking forward to discussing these topics in greater detail over the course of the week.

To sum up my Helsinki experience so far, I’ve been so well looked after by so many lovely, helpful people, from my hosts to the teachers, to the guy in the shop who explained which milk is which. People are kind, even to a lone traveler like me 🙂

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5 thoughts on “Helsinki: First impressions 

  1. I believe that we can only benefit from being open to new ideas and ways of life including delivering education to the youth of our nation. Children need to be stimulated and inspired to want to learn. You are doing a service to your profession and I look forward to following your findings and offer my grateful thanks to the Chuchill Foundation for facilitating this opportunity.

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