on February 11, 2013 by Irena Smith in Uncategorized, Comments (1)

Get to Work!

Hello, fellow nerds! I of course mean that as affectionately as possible, I just assume that if you’re spending your web hours reading a blog about education systems, you’re probably as big of a nerd as I am. I think that’s excellent.

I’ve decided to do a bit of a personal reflection this week. What I’m proposing to write about is not something that can be backed up with facts or statistics about the Finnish education system, but it does represent the genuine experience of someone studying in Finland. After five weeks of classes at the University of Turku, I’ve come to an interesting conclusion: University in Finland just isn’t as… hard.

I know I can’t make a statement like that without some serious elaboration. I suppose what I’m finding is that my day-to-day workload as a University student is lighter than in Canada. I’m not complaining about this – it’s given me lots of time to travel around Europe and explore the new city I’m living in. But the fact stands that I don’t have consisten weekly readings for class, the essays are shorter or not required, and I will only have one exam out of five courses. The only reason this concerns me is that, for someone who has always equated working hard in University with a greater intellectual reward, I’ve occasionally wondered if I’m learning as much.

All that being said, what is definitely stressed here in Finland is attending class. Almost all of my courses conclude with a Learning Diary – a reflective piece of original work, usually 10-20 pages, that must include references to every lecture as well as required readings, and can be backed up by any supplementary readings you choose to do (for those who want more information, I’ve attached a link to the University of Turku’s guidelines on Learning Diaries below). All of my professors have stressed that original thought is highly valued in these Diaries. From what I can tell, writing a good Learning Diary requires you to attend class, engage with the lecture, and identify and explore the main themes of the course. Further, it gives you the freedom to choose which themes interest you most and back them up with extra reading. Preparing for these diaries makes up the bulk of my daily schoolwork – I go home after a lecture (each class is generally one 1.5 hour session per week), think about it, summarize it, and maybe do a bit of reading if something interests me.

So how does this different style relate back to Finland having the “best education system in the world”? Can it truly measure up to the Canadian model if students aren’t packing in ten journal articles a week and writing four twenty-page papers? Surely that is the stuff academia is made of. Or are the rigors of our education system merely superficial, and can genuine learning happen without sending students into a stress-induced mental breakdown? The difference in demands from schoolwork is definitely proving to be my biggest paradigm shift as a learner. I really do worry sometimes that I’m not getting as much as I could out of these classes. But perhaps I’ve just made a spurious connection between hours chained to my desk and learning. Perhaps engaging and reflecting through a Learning Diary will in fact leave me with a greater wealth of knowledge. I definitely suspect that, if done well, a Learning Diary can leave you with one of the best skills a university degree supposedly offers – the ability to think critically.

Once again I have no answers to these questions, and I suspect that it will be difficult to draw any conclusions about the learning I experienced until there is some space between Finland and myself. But I promise to follow up on this post at the end of the term, once my courses have all finished. Until next time!


1 Comment

  1. Franz

    February 15, 2013 @ 5:01 am          

    You made an interesting point that rigor seems to define what is considered quality education in North America. Illogical, since I’m sure we have all experienced the well-documented effects of stress on the ability to learn.


    The idea that success must be earned through blood, sweat and tears is pervasive in all aspects of our society; we reward “self-made” people. The other side of this coin is that we shame and exclude those in our society who are too “lazy”, “undisciplined”, and “weak” to make it.