Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Richard Knights Tuesday October 28

I'll have to be brutally honest and confess that before this trip my knowledge of all things Finnish was fairly limited - the Moomins, Sammy Hyypia, those Olympic long distance runners and that weird looking Gothic rock band that won the Eurovision Song Contest - yet another occasion where Britain got 'nul points', or was it Norway again?

Thirty years ago Finnish people had a really bad diet and didn't take much exercise. Strange as it may seem rather than encourage people to drive everywhere by car and consume vast quantities of junk food they did the opposite. The only downside is that everywhere you go you risk getting mown down by cyclists. However, compared to being hit by a Hummer the survival rate is high.

We drive out to Oulu University and Jani takes us to a school based in the university grounds. Teachers are trained in this school and this is common practise in other Finnish universities.

The primary school is grade zero (5-6 years old) and grade one (6-7 year olds). By law class sizes are limited to 13 children. Children can choose from a range of different activities, but teachers might direct children towards certain work, but they're allowed to roam free and develop their curiosity.

Trainee teachers spend their first practise at this school, the second is thematic, not necessarily school based, whilst the final practise is back at the university school. Is this giving trainee teachers experience of the real world? They are trained by expert teachers and 90% of them will do supply teaching before they qualify.

In the afternoon we visit the Northern Ostrobothnia Museum. six thousand years ago the ice retreated forming the Baltic Sea, the first mammals to arrive were beavers followed by reindeer, bears and Ofsted inspectors (just checking you were still awake). Life in the Oulu region was tough, famine and plague regularly wiped out high percentages of the population.

From the thirteenth century to the eighteenth century Finland was ruled by Sweden and in the nineteenth century Russia. When Tsarist Russia was deemed to be a 'failing country' a separate Finnish national identity grew, stimulated by intellectuals like the composer Sibelius with his Finlandia Suite.

After the 1918 Civil War Finland became independent but in 1939 under the Stalin-Hitler pact was designated to return to Russian control. In the brutal Winter War the Finns fought off the invasion and maintained their independence.

The museum passes our rigorous inspection and comes out with a 'excellent with some outstanding features'. Did you know that a single reindeer can feed one person for 120 days? Not many people know that.

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