OECD-CELE Conference in Finland

Published: Thursday 3 May 2012

The OECD-CELE Conference in Finland from 22-24th February 2012 was entitled ‘Transforming Learning Environments Through Dynamic Local Partnerships’ which brought together a range of local and regional players from universities, local businesses and school communities. Both Conference venues were at educational facilities, Kotimaki Comprehensive School in Kaarina and the Teacher Education facility in Rauma in collaboration with the University of Turku.

Barbara Ischinger, Director of Education (OECD/CELE) set the scene outlining the work the OECD has already undertaken with projects such as Designing for Education, Innovative Learning Environments and the PISA tests. The next step is to link innovation in the design of learning spaces with improved educational outcomes with their LEEP project. (Learning Environments Evaluation Program)

Alistair Blyth, Analyst (OECD) gave a wide ranging presentation on learning environments and their need to provide for a variety of learning strategies and drew on examples from the OECD publication ‘Designing for Education’. He also furthered the notion that the lines between (commercial) workplace environments and learning environments are becoming increasingly blurred. This is most obvious within the tertiary sector.

Prof Vese Taatila was exceptional in his presentation on ‘Innovation as a Learning Tool’ – engaging students through projects based on innovation and creativity, while Prof Harri Ketamo blew everyone away with his computer games as a learning/research/feedback tool – how can anything so complex look so simple.

The role of IT in education was the theme of a number of other speakers who particularly emphasized the importance of the need for parallel research with these programs during and after implementation.

Multiple speakers and workshops were provided, all contributing to the theme of partnerships with industry and the wider community in the education process. There are many reasons why Finland has done so well in recent years in the OECD PISA tests (Finland has until recently been No1 for competency in Reading, Maths and Science in the PISA which test 15yolds in all OECD countries) and one of them is the amount of educational research the Finish Education Department and regional education authorities and individual teachers conduct to constantly improve teaching and learning. Some other elements of their education system are:

- Overarching national drivers of the provision of quality education with equal opportunity for all students. - There are no independent schools and only a few religious schools. - All teachers have a Master’s Degree - The teaching profession is highly regarded, respected and well paid. - Schooling is free, students have a free meals each day and transport to and from school is free. - Welfare services are part of every school. - The is almost no variation between the most successful and least successful students across all schools in Finland. - No formal school until age 7 although there is a high participation reate in Pre-School and Kinder. - There are no national tests until the end of their Basic Education (Matriculation) at age 16. - No school inspections and schools are not compared. - A very clear school to work pathway for students. - A general national curriculum with regional flexibility. - There is equality of education delivery for all students

Prior to the conference, as part of a group of 16 organized by Anne Knock of Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning (SCIL), we had excellent presentations from the Finnish National Board of Education and an absolute highlight was to our visit to Aalto University’s Design Factory. This is a recently formed university which has combined the faculties of Design, Technology, Economics with industry partners such as Nokia to provide in their words ‘a platform for education, research and application of product design, leading the way towards a paradigm shift by providing a constantly developing collaboration environment for students, researchers and business practitioners’.

Following the conference I visited Jyvaskyla University and Vaajakumpu School, Sakarinmaki School, Sipoo and Kirkkojarvi School, Espoo which were invaluable.

From an educational point of view what was most evident was their emphasis on the individual, their engagement, progress and welfare. Architecturally it was the quality of design -their design of ‘public spaces’ – cafeteria/meeting and breakout spaces and their selections of light fittings, furniture and materials.

As with many conferences, the real value is in the discussions with participants and in my case, visits to Universities and schools before and after the Conference.

Hal Cutting