on January 13, 2013 by Irena Smith in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

Greetings From Finland!

Greetings from Finland! I have spent just over a week in this snowy, social-democratic country, and already have so much to report. For my first entry, I’d like to introduce the main questions this blog will try to answer, and relay some of my first impressions of the Finnish attitude towards education.

So – first things first! Why am I writing this blog? What could students in Canada have to learn from a country with four hours of daylight in the winter and one strange language? Well, in my opinion, quite a lot. Finland has become renowned for having the “best education system in the world,” and of course there’s that business about how everyone goes to University for free. I find both of these facts very intriguing – but do they translate into a genuinely different educational experience than the one I’ve had in Canada? Are the differences stark, or will it take all of my five-month stay to uncover more subtle differences? For clarity’s sake, I’ve framed my main curiosities in these two research questions:

How are the societal perceptions of higher education in Canada and Finland reflected in how society values education and supports and invests in its students?

What are the differences and similarities between Finnish and Canadian educational systems, especially in relation to different financial contributions by students?

So far, it seems that if there are major differences in the Canadian and Finnish education systems, they are subtle. I’ve attended two orientation days and one lecture, and there were no life-sized concept maps or meditation-oriented teaching methods, or anything else really out of the ordinary. So it seems my task will require some more time and observation! However, I will leave you with a few comments that really struck me.

The Vice-Rector of the University of Turku, Ms. Riitta Pyykkö (they love the double letters here) gave a very interesting welcoming speech at the exchange student orientation. I’ll try to summarize what she said.

According to Ms. Pyykkö, there are very low hierarchies in Finland. This translates into the education system as well, she said. Teachers do not treat their students as lesser people, but as junior colleagues, who have something to offer to the learning process. This is especially true in University, according to Ms. Pyykkö, where it is expected that students bring some of their own knowledge to topics that interest them.

That really got me thinking. Do I feel like a junior colleague in the classroom? I think the best professors are the ones who generate this feeling – but is it a societal attitude, or just the skill of a good prof? And is it this attitude that justifies tax dollars paying for education? If we look at University as career development for junior colleagues, it makes sense for society to pay for it. A secondary question here is SHOULD we be treated like junior colleagues? Is it presumptuous of us to think we could have something to teach someone with a PhD? Surely they must know more than an undergraduate student. I mean – isn’t that why they’re at the front of the classroom, and we’re taking notes? Or maybe that’s my North American, hierarchy-oriented brain talking.

I would love it if people left comments on these posts. I hope you get used to my asking a lot of open-ended questions, and I hope you try to answer them! I certainly don’t have the answers. Best of luck as you begin your term, and wish me luck this weekend – I’m going to a traditional Finnish sauna. That means jumping into the frozen Baltic Sea, people! Brrr….