Before visiting Finland, our professor tasked us with asking three questions that we wanted to answer during our visit regarding the educational system in this beautiful country. I want to share these questions about the key elements in having an excellent educational system. The answers, according to my observation, may not be the right ones, but they are what I am taking from the visit.
One of the current challenges in education is being able to identify the problems of tomorrow in order to prepare students for them by using today’s paradigms and yesterday’s teachers. This statement is more powerful nowadays when the speed of change has increased, and said changes are more profound. We also live in a VUCA environment—Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. If the main job of the education leader is to understand the world we live in, to select the essentials our students need to learn (curriculum), to use the best way to prepare our students (methodology) to face life, and to find best people to teach them (teachers), the three questions are:
- Curriculum management. How can an institution have a curriculum updated to the needs of its students? There are other elements to address as well; for instance, the validation process to define the necessary changes, who the stakeholders are, and how fast proposed modifications can happen. Additional points to consider are the approval process of the government or other regulating agencies, the educational resources needed, like books, simulators, and the cost of these changes, among others.
After the visit, one of the possible answers to the first question is the understanding of how they do things in Finland. For the Finnish, the culture of trust and responsibility is of the upmost importance. This is consistent in their society as it is clear for everyone that the system will work well if everybody works for it. I think it is hard to see this culture in other places, but it is the most potent asset a nation can have. The second answer is the principle of national steering and local decision. This kind of autonomy goes top-down, from the minister who establishes the new curriculum, to the city adopting the policy but has the freedom to implement changes that are pertinent to their context, to the coordination with schools to find the best way to achieve goals, and finally to the teachers who decide the best way to teach their students.
2. Students’ Engagement. What is the best methodology for engaging students in deep learning? How to ensure that this methodology is alive in the institution?
The most powerful answer is that teachers love what they do. They are proud to be teachers, and they are prepared to implement the methodologies, which work best for their students, like learning by doing, in some cases.
3. Teacher Development. The main question is what the critical success elements in generating a culture of innovation and a challenging environment where teachers can commit to the purpose of the institution are. How to encourage the confidence of teachers as to propose changes that improve the institution?
Different elements can answer this question. The main I found are:
- Teachers’ prestige within the community.
- Trust in the teachers.
- Teachers’ autonomy.
- Teachers’ preparation.
- Teachers’ ongoing professional development (6 days a year to study).
- Teachers’ shared culture.
The important take-away message from this experience is the validation that what we are doing at CEIPA is going in the right way. The multidisciplinary curriculum we are implementing aligns with the current world trends, and Finland is a leader of those changes. Aalto University is an inspiring example, and we can learn from it. Learning by Doing is a significant change implemented to develop 21st-century skills. Another methodology widely used is Project-Based Learning. It will become essential for us to connect with Aalto University to share experiences. Teacher development is a crucial element of success when having an excellent education. We are making great efforts to bring this innovation to Colombia. This experience allows me to clarify and connect with people working on the same path.