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The school started a few weeks ago in the Helsinki area and students will be learning according to the new National Curriculum that came into effect during last school year.
The curriculum emphasizes students' active participation during lessons, placing subjects into a context and hence making them more meaningful and understandable and the possibility of each student to succeed and gain a feeling of success in some area. The new national curriculum was defined at a national level, but each region and municipality can apply it in their own way. The purpose of the teacher is to provide the tools for a student to become a lifelong learner by considering each students’ individual strengths.
The idea of considering each student’s individual interests and strengths is brilliant: how to apply it effectively is naturally a challenge. I would think the class size will make a big difference. A typical class size in a Finnish Elementary and Middle School is around 17-24 students. My son is very lucky as his class has only 17 students. Some schools in less populated areas of Finland have so few students per grade that they combine different grades together and one teacher teaches the entire group, still naturally following the learning plan for the appropriate grade.
A rapport between a teacher and his/her students will most likely make a difference too. The teacher needs to know her students well to tailor her teaching style and methods. In this regard, I see a big benefit in the Finnish system where the same teacher usually teaches the class for several years. Typically a student would have 1-2 main teachers during his/her Elementary School years and only one main teacher during the three years of Middle School. During Middle School, a student will have additional, specialized teachers for at least for foreign languages, mathematics, and physical education.
How is this then seen in the everyday life at school? As the national curriculum is so new, only enacted during the 2016-2017 school year, the schools are still learning and experimenting. One very concrete result that I can see, is that the learning doesn’t need to take place only at schools. Visits to museums, forests, various places are being utilized to bring subjects to life. As sometimes going to a forest is not a possibility, the teacher can record a lesson in a forest and show it to the students.
Also, it’s been recognized that the students can learn better if they are not physically tied down to their desks, but can rather freely move around the class room or work at their desks standing. I think this is an extremely good development, boys like my own get so fidgety when they must sit still for a long time. Walking or standing meetings have become popular in some offices and it’s great to see the same development in Finnish schools!
I am Inkeri Mentzoni, the founder of Kidemaa. I am a working mother of 8 year old son and we live in Helsinki.
I lived 15 years in the United States of America, but I returned to Finland four years ago in order to provide Finnish childhood to my son. I love working and I am grateful that the Finnish lifestyle allows me to pursue my professional goals and be an active mom at the same time. My favorite part of Helsinki: the fact that you can walk almost everywhere and nature is always around you.