One of the activities I get involved in outside of my Polkuni role, is to chair the Hong Kong FinnCham education committee. The role of the committee is to help spread the philosophy of the approach to education in Finland, and how this could be applied in areas of the Hong Kong system, the key focus is how to improve the well-being of students, something at the center of the Finnish system.
Each week I will publish a blog written by a member of the education committee, in order for them to share their perspective and to let others get a view of the Hong Kong education system from people who have been through it, are part of it or are trying to bring about changes. All these people today are represented by members of the FinnCham education committee.
Initially I will start with my personal overview of the Finnish education system based on my observation when in Finland and by talking with and reading information from many of the Finnish educational professionals I'm fortunate to know.
The philosophy of the Finnish education system, and the work and goals of the FinnCham education committee.
The basic Finnish philosophy of education is one that it is child-focused, where the goal is to provide a balanced and holistic approach to education. In this approach Finnish children are equally exposed to subjects and activities in a balanced way, not just focusing on the academic subjects, but equally being exposed to the arts, drama, crafts, sports and physical activities.
At the same time the majority of Finnish students are not streamed in any way, so students of different abilities and socio-economic status would be working together in the same class. This inclusive approach to education is a reflection of the Finnish culture which is one based on equity and equality. The result of this inclusiveness is for the education system to focus on the children’s well-being, health and happiness.
This sort of inclusive approach to education creates the need for well trained and professional teachers. The process of teacher selection and training has been an evolving one for the last 40 years, to the extent now to become a teacher in Finland is very difficult, but the perception of a teacher in society is that of a highly trained professional. This is not always the case in many parts of the world, and helps to differentiate the Finnish system with others.
Another approach within the Finnish system that assures the students well-being is at the center of everything is the student welfare team that exists in every school. This team is made up of experts, teachers and school leadership whose role is to identify and discuss issues and then find the best possible solutions to deal with them. This sort of early intervention approach for younger children helps to identify and resolve aspects before they could become a problem. It's generally agreed that many of the problematic issues we face as adults in many cases link back to some elements of our early childhood.
Generally, in Finnish schools, there is a relatively flat hierarchy, most principals would still be teaching in their schools. The benefit of this of course is that the principals still get direct feedback and have up to date classroom experience meaning any changes they may wish to consider or introduce, would have relevance and be supported by teachers. This collaboration and communication culture is one that is most recognisable in Finnish schools. Many parts of the world you may not find principals teaching, their roles are more hierarchical, and the structures less flat.
The out of school activity of Finnish students also plays an important role in their success inside school. In Finland, there is a sense network of associations, organizations and clubs. Some figures suggest that 3 out of 5 Finnish students are engaged in some type of activity in their free time. The most common activities are around sports, art and culture. These sorts of activities can help student get the social skills they may not develop as fast in a school only environment. We also know now the importance of movement or physical activities, not only for general health but also for brain development. We know now more than ever from the latest neuroscience that exercise and movement are not only key to good health but also to learning, and yet in many parts of the world, including Hong Kong, physical activities are replaced with more study of academic subjects.
There are always discussions about creating a Finnish school or education approach in Hong Kong, in many ways it’s very difficult if not impossible to transfer one education system from one place to another. Education systems are complex cultural entities, and in many ways the education system is a general reflection of the culture is society. In this context to truly replicate the Finnish education system then you really need to replicate the Finnish culture.
I would argue that at this point in time the general Finnish culture is one based on equity and equality and therefore inclusiveness, which is reflected in the education system, this is not what you would generally find in cultures outside Finland, where competition is the driver in all walks of life, including education.
Given all the above, the goal of the FinnCham education committee is to see how and where we can help introduce the philosophy of the Finnish approach into the Hong Kong system, Which means looking at the well-being issues of the students and the training of teachers as two areas to start with.
Chair FinnCham Education Committee