What Can We Learn from Finland - by Mr. A. Boonstra
At the end of September, I had the amazing opportunity to join 34 other Christian school principals in visiting the country of Finland. Last spring the Ontario Christian School Administrator Association proposed visiting Finland to see first hand what makes their school system so successful. Finland’s educational system is world renowned and is known to have some of the highest student achievement results when it comes to PISA* scores. Joining with the principals from other local Christian schools, I spent 5 days in Helsinki touring a number of schools as well as connecting with the administrators of these schools.
In preparation for the trip, we were required to read Pasi Sahlberg’s book called Finnish Lessons, which outlines some of the reasons for Finland’s educational success. Not only did we have an opportunity to read the book, we actually had Mr. Sahlberg join us on many of our school visits. His presence in our midst allowed us to pick his brain to explore what makes the Finnish model so successful.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of going on a similar excursion to San Diego, California. We visited High Tech High, along with a couple of other schools at that time. We brought back some amazing ideas, including Project Based Learning, or PBL. CCS has immersed itself in this strategy of learning for the past couple of years and even designed a specific day for students to share their projects with our broader community. That day of sharing is affectionately known as our Shine Festival.
My trip to Finland, however, was a little different than the San Diego trip. It was much more difficult to glean a specific pedagogical approach to learning that connected to student learning. Much of the Finnish success can be traced to the cultural approach the Finns have towards education, and changing culture is not an overnight process. However, there are still many lessons to be learned and some subtle changes that we could consider.
For example, in Finland, education is very highly valued and supported within society. Teachers are held in high esteem, and access to education at all levels is provided for the general population. The influence of education on culture is further seen in language acquisition. Not only is Finland a bilingual country (Finnish and Swedish are official languages), but English is practiced by most citizens of the country as well.
Furthermore, Finnish education is characterized by meaningful and exciting classroom work, active movement within the classroom, individualized student programs, and students taking responsibility for their academic progress. In other words, students are invested in their education.
I like to think that CCS is well on its way towards implementing some of the strategies mentioned above at our own school. However, there is room for us to explore how we can support teachers so that they can be empowered to be innovative with lesson implementation and student training. Perhaps a greater emphasis can be placed on deeper learning that teaches children how to be agents of justice in a broken world. Maybe we need to create more space for students to be leaders of their own learning. At CCS, we are in the very unique position to look for opportunities that allow our students to shine. Exploring other school models that help us build upon the programs we already have can only benefit the students that come through our doors. It is indeed an exciting time to be in education, and with the grace of God leading us, we will continue to look for ways in which we can serve the students of CCS in such a way that they can make a difference in our world. * The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a worldwide study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in member and non-member nations of 15-year-old school pupils' scholastic performance on mathematics, science, and reading (taken from Wikipedia).
~Mr. A. Boonstra, Principal