Saturday, November 1, 2008

Richard Knights Friday October 31st

During the brief summer people in Oulu go a bit crazy and host events like the World Air Guitar Championships. In winter for six months they are virtually snow bound and indulge in seasonal sports like ice fishing, cross country skiing and herring slapping (OK, I made the last one up).

In the morning we visit a Secondary school for 500 students from 13-15 years (grades 7-9) based at Oulu University. Students are selected according to distance from the school, whether other siblings attend, previous primary school, but not on grades. As students come up to the 7th grade there is a parents' evening where police and youth workers talk to pupils.

To guide them through the transition there are counsellors, special needs teachers, welfare officers, psychologists and nurses. Teachers from the primary school (grades 1-6) are also consulted. Mixed ability classes are formed based on the views of teachers, parents and students. In the first term there are lessons in 'How to live your life', interviews with pupils, help from counsellors and older students provide peer support. They even monitor whether new students are using the dining hall.

Sixty per cent of students from this school go on to an academic Upper Secondary. the national figures are 35% academic and 65% vocational. There are no national tests but work is graded from a fail -4 up to 8, grades 9 and 10 are exceptional.

We move on to Karjasilla Academic Upper Secondary which was built in 1958, they are waiting for a new school in five years time. They have 300 students with 20 teachers. 45% of students go to University, 40% to Polytechnics. Nationally 70% of Finnish students (one of the highest figures in the world) go on to tertiary education.

In the corridors the students are well behaved, there seems to be lots of them sat down hugging or clasped around each other. They are also very wary of strange English teachers offering them badges.

We walk down a forest lined footpath and Jani informs us that there are bears in the woods, but attacks are very rare. This could make for a very interesting compensation and retirement package. The only problem will be getting all of the other teachers to corroborate the evidence.

The Lintulan kindergarten was opened in 1994 and has pioneered an immersion programme where children are taught for part of the time in English. It is open from 6.30 am until 6 p.m. and the 14 staff work on a shift system. The children are all in fancy dress and sing 'Twinkle, twinkle little star' and 'Bah, bah black sheep'. Shamefully we can't give them any Finnish songs so I give them my version of three ball juggling. 'Mum, we had these strange English teachers in school...'

The nursery has a system of formal assessment, but nothing like our Early Years tracking with 13 areas, 9 different outcomes supported by 2 pieces of evidence and a target score of 78. They don't have national panics about 'only 58% of 5 year-olds can write their name'. The Finns expect children to learn through play. Could this be one of the reasons why their children seem so well-adjusted?

Last port of call is the Luovi Vocational Institute for special needs young people and adults. There are many different units throughout Finland run by the Pulmonary Association - forty years ago TB was common. The units work with students that have mental health problems, development delays, reading and writing difficulties and development disorders. Training at upper secondary level is free of charge and the unit can call on the services of 600 experts. The aim is to provide the basis for independent living.

As we walk back a blizzard begins to envelop us. When we get back to the hotel Gary goes outside to build a structure in the snow. A passing group of Inuits make a light touch inspection and conclude that it is a 'failing igloo', I decide that we will need to employ an exorbitantly expensive Australian consultancy firm (Building Snowhouses in Finland) who will show us how to use local materials to make shelters.

The snow is settling on the ground the wind piling it up into drifts. I wonder if we'll make the flight home? Our little group from Knowsley (just outside Liverpool) will have to use 'Grey Sky Thinking' in a crisis we will need to 'Think outside the snowdrift'. If we do get stranded I'll miss my wife, children and cat but I'm more than ready to claim educational asylum here.

No comments: