A Great Website on Finnish Education Through American Eyes

Jen Chavez-Miller was a Distinguished Award in Teaching (DAT) Fulbrighter in Finland last year.
She put together a terrific website that deserves attention from those interested in the Finnish system and/or global education.
These are her pictures from her time here. Below is a list of links to her website, the main page of which is here. I really like her page on education in Finland: she has chosen some lovely quotations from the national curriculum. There is an overwhelming amount of content here. I don’t know how she did it!

Her Portfolio Menu

Introduction to this Portfolio – Understand why and how I pursued this inquiry project.

Education in Finland – Investigate the world of Finnish education  through annotated slideshows showcasing school places and spaces, in the classroom, school lunches, and teacher rooms.

Global Education – Recognize diverse perspectives of global education concepts, definitions and initiatives around the world.

International Expressions of Global Education – Consider
how UNESCO, the United Nations, and the countries of
Australia, Canada, Scotland, Singapore, and the United
States define global education.

Case Study: Global Education in Finland – Examine Finland’s global education initiatives and how cultural values shape and define those initiatives.

Global Education Initiatives Timeline – Consider the
evolution of global education in Finland

Themes of Global Education in Finland – Read stories
of educators and schools across Finland and how they are
engaging students in global citizenship through the themes
of values, curriculum articulation, teacher autonomy,
collaboration, integration, and commitment to equality.

Curriculum Development – Explore, experiment, and commit to bringing global learning to your classroom.

 Online Resources for Teachers – Ignite your curiosity and commitment to promoting global competencies in your classroom.

Professional Development Modules – Review conference and grant proposals and presentations for diverse audiences on topics related to my Fulbright experiences (Password protected –contact me if you would like access.)

Gratitude and Dedication – Acknowledge those who made this experience possible.

Finland Blog – Read about my experiences while I was in Finland from February – May, 2015.

An Email to My American Students

Dear Juniors,

The Class of 2017 was on my mind yesterday and today as I watched the rite of passage for rising “seniors” here in Jyväskylä. 


Yesterday morning, all the current seniors who will be taking the matriculation examination in May had their final day of classes. Now they will only be studying. So they celebrate here by dressing up in silly costumes and riding around the centre of town in a caravan of open-backed trucks. Students from all the schools in town filled dozens of trucks, cruised the downtown where thousands gathered to be showered with candy by the students.

Version 2

Now that the seniors are gone (today they won’t receive the free school lunch they’ve eaten since pre-school), the juniors step it up. At 10 this morning, they gathered in their gyms, dressed in ball gowns and tuxedos. From 10-11, they danced waltzes, tangos, and other formal dances.


Tonight, all the juniors in Jyväskylä will gather at the largest sports hall for a gigantic prom. One neat twist: each school choreographs a dance, often quite inventive. They share them with each other (the one I saw this morning narrated all the juniors going on an airplane, crashing, and then dancing to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight). After every school performs its dance, there is a formal.

After the formal, the students head to cabins along the countless lakes which dot the pine and birch woods that cover most of the country. On Monday, they will begin their final set of courses.

Pretty cool! When I teach Globalisation in the fall, we will be talking with some of these kids about their lives and about their outlook on global issues. I am also working on setting up a Skype with the director of a refugee camp here, where unaccompanied minor migrants stay. Hopefully some of the migrants will join in, though most speak Arabic–and now a little Finnish. What would it be like being 16 or 17, from Baghdad, and being among strangers in a refuge camp in rural Finland? I can’t even imagine.

So some people your age here are re-hemming their ball dresses right now. Others are sitting in tents, learning Finnish. 

I hope you are well. Take care and free to drop me a line if you want to!

Warm wishes from Finland,


Worrying about the “Finnish Brand”


Something I have heard here worries me a bit. A number of Finnish people I have met have told me that Finland needs to do a better job selling itself. Somehow, some seem to think, the ongoing recession is in part due to the fact that “Brand Finland” isn’t in better shape abroad.

I don’t know if that is true or not, but there is not much about Finland in the international media that isn’t glowing. It is true, though, Finland’s post-Nokia economy is in a rut. Finns are well aware that the tech sector, especially tech exports–have taken a nose dive. What’s more,“Finland remains in recession after contracting by 0.1% in the last three months,” a blurb in the Guardian announced a few days ago. “That follows a 0.5% contraction in the July-September quarter, and means Finland’s economy is still smaller than in 2008.”

Okay, but who is to say that 2008 is the year we should use judge the present. In 1929, the Dow peaked at 381; it would not revisit that mark until 1936, if we include deflation-related prices. In the 2000s, there were likewise multiple bubbles in the global economy and Finland, though it was no Greece or Iceland, was taken for a ride. But should we wish for a return to the economy of 2007?

Also, there was the size of Nokia. The Economist reports that Nokia “contributed a quarter of Finnish growth from 1998 to 2007,” and “was sometimes paying as much as 23% of all Finnish corporation tax.” And, on June 29, 2007, the iPhone became available for purchase.

The pain here is real. Finland’s unemployment rate is about 9%, roughly twice that of Norway. Sweden’s rate is falling; Finland’s is not.

I wonder if fear about the country’s brand is something of a Nokia hangover. I don’t know. Imports are down as a percentage of the size of the economy. According to the World Bank, in 2000, exports of goods and services comprised 42% of GDP. In 2014, only 38%. After 20 years of a trade surplus, a small trade deficit began in 2011. But what is striking to me is that Finland’s top exports are refined petroleum paper, steel and wood: do these need re-branding?

I have taken a look at the forecasts for the Finnish economy made of the World Bank and the Bank of Finland. Both foresee growth. Not roaring progress, but slow, steady growth. This is something I have not read about on news websites.

This comes from the Bank of Finland:

Source: Bank of Finland forecast December 2015.
1. Balance of supply and demand, at reference year 2010 prices
% change on previous year
2013 2014 2015f 2016f 2017f
GDP at market prices -1.1 -0.4 -0.1 0.7 1.0
Imports of goods and services 0.0 0.0 -2.8 3.2 2.8
Exports of goods and services 1.1 -0.7 0.1 2.1 2.7
Private consumption -0.3 0.5 0.5 0.6 0.6
Public consumption 0.8 -0.2 -0.1 0.6 0.6
Private fixed investment -7.1 -3.9 -1.1 3.3 2.8
Public fixed investment 3.5 -0.9 -2.3 1.3 1.4

So when I take into account the Great Recession, the collapse of Nokia, and the forecast for a turnaround, I wonder why “selling Finland” is such a common refrain. And Brand Finance, “the world’s leading independent brand valuation and strategy consultancy,” ranks Finland’s nation brand at #4, behind only Singapore, Switzerland, and the UAE. Wow.

Is it part of a strategy, a way of keeping on top? Is the expressed worry like the new curriculum for a school system envied the world over, namely, the continuous search for ever-better results?  Here’s one piece of marketing I do like: the appearance those new Finnish emojis–the headbanger, the suana-ers, the people waiting far apart, Finnish-style, at a bus stop, the first ever produced by a nation.

Behind my discomfort is the fear that Finns will emulate Americans and begin to see markets as the holders of all solutions. When the Minister of Education, who came through the university here today, calls for a combination of cuts, consolidation, and specialization in higher education, I worry. Can a “university” specialize? She wants the universities to become world-famous for a single field of study and research–can you say branding? This sounds like the rhetoric of austerity to me and it sounds like an opening for academic capitalism now so common in the US. Let’s hope the economy rebounds before any harmful changes can be implemented, whether in education or anywhere else in the social welfare system.



A Good Documentary Available on Youtube: “Revolution of the Present”

This documentary, “Revolution of the Present,” has been around for a couple of years, but I see it has recently been posted by the filmmakers on youtube.

Here is part of the blurb the accompanies the film: “Humanity seems to be stuck in the perpetual now that is our networked world. More countries are witnessing people taking to the streets in search of answers. Revolution of the Present, the film, features interviews with thought leaders designed to give meaning to our present and precarious condition. This historic journey allows us to us re-think our presumptions and narratives about the individual and society, the local and global, our politics and technology. This documentary analyzes why the opportunity to augment the scope of human action has become so atomized and diminished. Revolution of the Present is an invitation to join the conversation and help contribute to our collective understanding.”


The movie does not aspire to offer solutions, but holds up a mirror to the viewer, helping us think about our contemporary lives. This might be preferable to teachers because it offers students to engage in the discussion.

Are Classrooms an Exportable Resource?

I visited today with Mika Rantala, the principal of the nearby Schiltin lukio, a school with a focus on sports (Olli Määttä of the Pittsburgh Penguins came through the school a few years ago). No sports teams like in American schools, but more on that later, maybe. IMG_4157

Mika has welcomed guests from around the world and has traveled as far away as China to share information of the Finnish education system.

Nokia is kaputt; the paper and cardboard industries are volatile and you can only cut down so many trees; but “the Finnish education system” appears to be an inexhaustible natural resource.

I have heard there is a school opening in Buffalo, New York, built on “the Finnish model.” And in the past week, I have spoken with educators who have traveled to Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, and Shanghai to share their way of doing things.

Yet today, Mika told my fellow Fulbrighters and me that there really isn’t anything very special happening in the classroom. The teachers talk, the students take a few notes. All pretty traditional. The English class I visited was a lot of fun: my heart goes out to Finnish kids who have to grapple with our gendered pronouns and confounding articles (“I’d like a couple of her chocolates.”) Kirsi Solonsaari called on students who nervously tried to use a series of idioms in sentences (“The first time I saw a football game, I fell in love with it”). The textbooks are thin, colorful, and clearly written. The students’ English is amazing. Yet I wouldn’t say there was anything groundbreaking going on in the classroom, pedagogically speaking.

Sitting at the teachers’ table in the crowded lunchroom, I asked a history teacher named Kaisu Ikäheimo how much homework she’d given her students since the last time she saw them on Wednesday. 45 minutes? 30 minutes? No, not that much, she said. That is if they do it, she confided. Kaisu doesn’t want to give so much homework that it gets in the way of their sports.

As we walked through the halls–Shildtin, like every other school I’ve visited, is filled with slanting, natural light–teenagers looked at their phones, gossiped, played guitars, and did homework. There are no clubs during the school day. If they don’t have classes after lunch, the students are free to leave. This is true at my daughter’s elementary school as well.

There is little homework and less class time than in the US, but, when they are in class, Mika suggests, “they are there to learn.” When they are out of school, they have spare time: hobbies, exercise, video games, and so on. But they are not under surveillance; their education is their own responsibility. “They learn from society,” explains Mika.

The state trusts the teachers to arrange school budgets (I’m attending such a meeting next Tuesday); the administration trusts the teachers to teach as the see fit; the teachers trust the students to make their own schedules; and adults trust children to make good choices when they are not in class. This trust, a word I hear every day here, is supported by the layout of the cities, their transportation systems, and the support every Finn receives from the government. This, I am sad to say, doesn’t appear to me to be exportable. The faith in the basic goodness of people may arise out of, or have contributed to the rise of, the socialist system in Finland in the previous century. It is a democratic nation that believes in the essential competence of its citizens.

But Finland is in recession. Iceland, Ireland, and Sweden are back on their feet. But not Finland. The flush age of Nokia isn’t coming back (there’s an irony in that social services were bolstered by a private tech company); the population is aging. The currency can’t be devalued to boost exports (as was done before Finland joined the EU) because Finland uses the Euro and there are European restrictions on trade with Russia next door. So the government is consolidating and cutting positions at the university level and Mika feels he has to do more with less. Education feels more political, it seems, more tied to economics. On top of this is a new national curriculum.

But that is a view of Finland in rapid motion. The snapshot of a day at a Finnish upper-secondary school offers a different image. To me, the schools I visit seem wonderfully ordinary. The kids are just kids, laughing, chatting, looking sheepish when the principal asks them what they were up to. Still they are more independent than American children, more in charge of their own lives, whether that be in the abstract realm of their education or in how they make their way across town. Mika seems to think that their freedoms and their inner-directedness are central to the success of Finnish schools.




Does Innovation Spring from Stress or Security?

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” is a nice old expression. Funny, I had always thought it was first spoken by Thomas Edison. No, apparently, it is centuries’ old, recorded in Britain some 500 years ago. But is it true?

Below is a graph from a recent article in the Helsinki Times, an English-language newspaper here in Finland. It relates the findings of a study by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, which assessed helpful and hurtful policies in 56 nations. I am dubious about anyone’s abilities to measure something as amorphous as innovation, but since there are so many serious problems to be tackled in the world it seems worth thinking about.


From the Helsinki Times, “Finland Ranks 1st in Net Impact on Global Innovation,”

So how did Finland get to the top right corner? It’s robust social welfare system, part of which is its education system. As I sit here in the University of Jyväskylä library (the quietest college library I’ve ever been in, by the way), the students around me appear focused and calm. It’s noon, so one by one they drift downstairs to one of the many cafeterias where, for about $3, they can enjoy a full, nutritious lunch–an entrée, salad, bread and a drink. (Geez, I’m hungry.) None of them pay tuition. They all have health care.

As for the US? 10th overall, because although it has created few roadblocks to innovation, the US offers too few policies which encourage it. An article in The Globalist reporting on the same survey, noted that “This is due to the U.S. government’s relative underinvestment in R&D as a share of the country’s GDP, weak innovation-incenting tax policies, as well as a middling performance in human capital.”

I took a peek at the report. It asserted that to get to #1 in innovation globally, the US “could take five steps to significantly increase its score on contributions: 1) reduce its effective corporate tax rate to 18.2 percent; 2) increase its R&D tax credit to 24 percent; 3) implement an innovation box [not as cool as it sounds: a tax credit on innovation-related income]; 4) increase government funding of R&D by $68 billion annually; and 5) increase its number of college science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) graduates by 20 percent.”

I might be missing something, but this prescription reads to me like the authors would prefer the US would become more like China and less like Finland. Yes, Finland has a lower effective corporate tax rate than the US, but so does Turkey (identical to Finland at 18.6%), Chile, Thailand, and Ukraine.

Perhaps it is people and not corporations that innovate. And perhaps the talent to innovate is imbued in a nation’s citizens before they take up their R&D positions. Perhaps it is in part cultural? Given our lack of publicallly funded prenatal care, the 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave, the cost of day care and preschool, and then the formulas by which we Americans fund our K-12 system, it seems to me that is not hard to see our problems with “human capital.”

Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947) had an interesting response to the aphorism, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Whitehead was a logician, mathematician (he worked with Bertrand Russell) and, later in life, a philosopher. I am struck by something he wrote about what we might call innovation (the emphasis is mine):

“If, in the troubled times which may be before us, you wish appreciably to increase the chance of some savage upheaval, introduce widespread technical education and ignore the Benedictine ideal [of prayer, work, study, hospitality and renewal]. Society will then get what it deserves. Again, inventive genius requires pleasurable mental activity as a condition for its vigorous exercise. ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ is a silly proverb. ‘Necessity is the mother of futile dodges’ is much nearer to the truth. The basis of the growth of modern invention is science, and science is almost wholly the outgrowth of pleasurable intellectual curiosity.”

College-bound American high school students today are well aware of the cost of college, the international competition at the top schools, and the sense of a diminishing safety net–let alone trillions of dollars of federal debt, a fractured Middle East, and rising oceans. They are told to lead, to innovate, to think outside the box. But if the reason to do so is because they fear an adulthood lived in a dead-end, pensionless job, it’s hard to hope for “pleasurable intellectual curiosity.”