Finland’s Schooling With A Management Twist

First published forbes.com 7/2016. Finland is famous for schooling that starts kids at age seven, gives them short days, little homework, few exams, lots of crafts and music and outdoor expeditions, and yet turns out pupils that shoot the lights out in the International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings—all while being free to users and leaving very few students behind.

No surprise then that education policymakers and managers worldwide want to look under the hood of Finnish schooling.

“The rest of the world is more interested than ever. We have been organizing educational visits for nearly a decade,” says Anna Rantapero-Laine, Head of Training at the University of Helsinki Center For Continuing Education (HY+).

The University of Helsinki’s Department of Teacher Education faculty has over the years provided much of the research and pedagogical thinking behind the Finnish schooling model.

At the Aalto Executive Education facility. Picture Aalto University

At the Aalto University Executive Education facility. Picture Aalto University EE

But now HY+ is going one better, merging the visitor experience into a 6-day executive education program, combining education sector and business school expertise, created and offered in conjunction with Aalto University Executive Education. The program is scheduled for November in Helsinki.

Pekka Mattila, Professor of Practice at Aalto and Dean of Executive Education, says “Oftentimes education sector leaders are ‘a bit homegrown’ with a strong background in education, but not that much exposed to general management, strategic management, or innovation.

“This is our design idea. Aalto’s role is to bring in business and innovation. The University of Helsinki makes sure this links back to education management.

“Often one side is missing. Educators find it difficult to relate to standalone management topics. But if it is only about education, if there is nothing about implementation, how to make change happen, how to run experiments, how to restructure things, how to build a new culture—then education insights are not turned into reality.”

“Aalto’s role is to make this kind of conversion and bridge-building happen.”

The program targets schooling (up to age 16) industry professionals, administrators, policy makers, city planners, government officials and ministries, and education NGOs, “anyone planning and developing schools, creating educational systems and institutions, even planning the whole education structure of a country,” says Minna Wickholm, program designer and head of the Aalto University Exec Ed open enrollment business area.

It includes an off-site day visit to a learning-innovation benchmark school, Viherkallio, in Finland’s Espoo region.

Viherkallio says this about its approach: “The work philosophy of our school consists of three main focus areas: To find information in different ways—especially using ICT—and make something new of it. To use different ways to learn and to use different kinds of pedagogic ideas—with a strong emphasis on drama—as well as to learn to use various interaction skills in living and learning.”

At Viikki School. Picture: Linda Tammisto

At Viherkallio School, Finland. Picture: Linda Tammisto

But, says Wickholm, even as it caters to foreigners, the Exec Ed program is also designed to challenge local delegates, particularly provoking Finland’s schooling administrators to open up to an entrepreneurial view of education, including using customer-development frameworks for service improvement.

It offers a hands-on “design thinking” day, encouraging delegates to bring the current challenges they have in their schools into a guided service (re)design workshop.

The program also approaches future-of-education topics, from both educator and learner perspectives.

Education planners will get to think about innovations in learning technologies particularly within an understanding of the 21st Century competencies students need to succeed in jobs of the future—collaborative, creative mindsets and a willingness to embrace continuous learning.