By: Jennifer Botzojorns
The image of a teenage Finnish boy launching himself off a pier into winter water, then a group of youth singing, riding the subway, criss-crossing Helsinki, inspired me. These young adults are part of the Bass Camp free student program for youth. You can view their video created to promote Helsinki in an earlier post on this blog.
In the state of Vermont, like the young man in the video, our youth often engage in invigorating activities to celebrate (and endure!) a long winter. There are similarities between my home state and Finland; we are small, rural and love skiing, hockey, and the cold climate. I have received many questions from my colleagues at Chittenden East Supervisory Union where I work. Blog posts will allow me to bring them along in my virtual suitcase.
I begin with questions about preschool, early literacy and numeracy. Concerning literacy, how specifically are children taught to read? I look forward to visiting a classroom of young children to watch the approach to language. What is the philosophy, pedagogy and practice, and how does this vary from teacher to teacher and school to school? At what age are children required/expected to master particular understandings, and how is a child approached who is not within the normal range? Similarly, how are children taught early math concepts such as counting, addition and subtraction? For example, are these concepts taught together or is addition understood fully, then subtraction taught as the missing part of an addition problem? What does a math classroom look like as students learn their basic math facts and problem solving skills? How are children with a whole range of disabilities, such as dyslexia, downs syndrome or autism taught literacy and numeracy?
The second set of questions consider 21st century technology. I am curious about everything from wifi and device accessibility to funding. Who makes decisions concerning funding and availability of technology devices, infrastructure and personnel? Who makes decisions about what and how to integrate technology into the curriculum? What is the philosophy about the use of technology and does this vary from teacher to teacher and school to school? What about the physical infrastructure, how is this updated? What are similarities and differences in Helsinki, Inari, Espoo and Rovaniemi—and throughout the whole country?
The third set of questions conerns governance. Who “runs” the school? There are day-to-day activities, plus larger questions such as the yearly schedule, the curriculum, programs, and budgets. (For example is it required for all children to take a foreign language or algebra? At what age?) Who creates any requirements and who checks to assure any requirements are met? Who approves budgets and how democratic is the process? How do outside interest groups influence decisions about individual schools and national education policies? What is the relationship between a principal, parent groups, and regional director such as a superintendent, a community or local school board, and the ministry of education? How do schools and/or the government involve parents or local individuals in decision-making concerning schools? In considering these questions, I would like to understand funding streams.
On a meta level, I am curious how the structure of the Finnish language influences behaviors around learning and schooling. From what I understand there are 15 noun cases in Finnish, far more than English, yet there are no exceptions, all structures follow a rule. Yet in English there are exceptions to just about every rule be it grammar, spelling, or verb tense. How does the structure of the language, embedded in everyday interactions, influence the way learning is realized?
I am very much looking forward to this inquiry week, looking at the schools, and perhaps jumping into the sea! Thank you to Joe and all our Finnish colleagues for your hard work and planning.