Our previous blog described the background to Finland’s successful education system and today we’ll unpack that a bit more, but also take a more detailed look at the role edtech plays in that success.
The Finnish example
Of particular interest, I thought, was Finland’s focus on early childhood learning — what they call ECEC (Early Childhood Education and Care). Using a principle called Starting Strong, in 2015 the government decreed that while non-compulsory pre-primary education (6 years) would have a basic curriculum (designed and issued by national government), as well as policies and standards monitored and managed by local municipalities. According to the Finnish Ministry of Education, “Learning in kindergarten should be based on playing, exploration, and concrete activities (taking into account children’s need for learning through imagination and playing), and on intertwining creativity, knowledge, and experiences with stories or actual occasions.”
Finnish kindergartens typically have the same measures and standards for variables such as staff ratio (required maximum is 14:1), infrastructure, training and curriculum requirements that primary and secondary schools have, although there is a large degree of latitude afforded municipalities, and administrators in terms of course design, timetables etc. In Finland, teachers are regarded as experts in their fields, and are seldom restricted by bureaucracy, scripts, standardized tests etc.
In other words, as with many other highly regarded professions, they are allowed the freedom to innovate and experiment in trusted teams, with minimal meddling from bureaucrats. It should also be noted that most education administrators, are in fact ex-teachers themselves.
The Finns spend, on average per preschooler, 12 000 USD, most of which is funded from the public purse — with parents paying up to only 14% of the costs themselves. If this all sounds draconian, be assured it’s also all voluntary, children are not statutorily required to attend school until age 7. However, because of how the ECEC works and is managed, is enormously popular with both children and parents.
Student involvement and game-based learning
It is typical that every fall, parents and their children’s kindergarten teacher meet to design and discuss an individualized learning map for their children. Remarkably, youngsters are also encouraged to document their kindergarten experiences, and input directly into what works for them, and how they feel they could learn better. As such enrollment rates of children in kindergarten stands at 80%.
The reason for this popularity is the principle that ECEC adheres to: learning through play. There is no doubt time enough for ABCs and times tables in primary school, and ECEC is dedicated to not only playful learning, but indeed playful teaching.
For example: outdoor technology-enhanced playful learning environments (PLEs) were designed and implemented in some schoolyards in Finland, where Finnish scholars advanced a number of learning-by-play theories, from dedicated institutes such as the University of Helsinki’s Playful Learning Center. According to Finnish educationalist, Marjaana Kangas, “Conceptually, the playful learning environment (PLE) refers to an indoor-outdoor technology-enriched play and learning environment that has been developed for pre-primary and primary education.”
The Playful Learning Center is also, unsurprisingly, deeply immersed in discovering how game-based learning, mobile and digital games and maker spaces can advance an already sophisticated pedagogic approach in Finnish and other European schools.
How edtech supports everything: EDUDigi
Let’s look at one of these projects: EDUDigi.
Using research and inputs from the latest advances in the gaming industry, EDUdigi co-opts teachers and developers to better understand how and if digital games can be used, with one of the outcomes being a knowledge and business accelerator for startups that make learning games. The goal is to support the development of new products, services, and markets by providing gaming and experimentation platforms and trial environments.
There are around 80 education development companies in Finland, and 22 of them participated in EDUDigi. Additionally 16 student teams participated in the co-development of projects and applications, and ultimately 41 learning applications were developed together with companies, students and teachers.
Through government support of this initiative both the The Metropolia Game Studio and the City of Games Factory in Helsinki were initiated, both of which have developed compelling and useful digital games for schools. Some of these include:
- Shade: A game designed for an entire school to play, for a year. Classes then compete with others around certain tasks that need to be completed, and teachers participate by scoring completed tasks. The idea is to create a healthy, school-wide competitive spirit.
- MyMountain: A child-friendly productivity and life-skills development game designed to help youngsters achieve their goals.
- Huge Carbon: A calculation game for children with Type 1 diabetes, offered in conjunction with Finnish medical services. The game makes tracking and scoring one’s insulin levels fun, yet accurate and timely.
- Hex Racers: This is a student-developed game, that uses an open-source coding mechanism, where a first person racer format allows youngsters to explore landmarks and sites of Helsinki. There is also a real-life addon that allows for teams and individuals to meet up and explore the town in self-organised field trips.
It is clear that Finland’s enviable educational outcomes is no overnight success. Not only do they have a long history of enshrining and elevating learning, but continue to utilize all the very latest technologies as well as research to add significant value not only to their own pedagogical approaches, but indeed to those of the world.