Where innovation works: Sweden and Finland

November 13, 2009 at 2:26 pm 1 comment

by Alec Patton 

It’s no secret that Sweden and Finland have excellent records in education (both for attainment and equality of provision). But this isn’t just a case of finding a winning formula and sticking to it – both countries are committed to finding radically innovative ways of educating young people.

Sweden: Kunskapsskolan (‘Knowledge School’)

John Baumber, director of Kunskapsskolan UK (aka Learning School Trust), spoke about the Kunskapsskolan education method at the Innovation in Education conference hosted by Education Guardian and the Innovation Unit earlier this week. View a video interview with John Baumber at the Conference below.

The Kunskapsskolan company in Sweden runs schools where students choose what to study, setting short-term and long-term goals for themselves with support from a learning mentor. The curriculum is divided into cross-curricular ‘themes’ rather than subjects, and into ‘steps’ that students progress through at their own pace, rather than year-by-year expectations for attainment. Students record their own progress in online ‘logbooks’, which their parents can track. Hence, autonomy is wound together tightly with personal accountability. 

Kunskapsskolan schools (purists point out that this phrase is redundant, but it has the advantage of clarity for non-Swedish speakers) are open-plan, with multi-purpose ‘spaces’ rather than classrooms and corridors.

Though they are privately run, they charge no fees to students, who attend through a state-run voucher system. It is this model – advocated by Conservative Party leader David Cameron in the UK – that has dominated the discussion over what the UK can learn from Sweden. But what is most radical about Kunskapsskolan is not that they make money, and how they stand in relation to other schools, but how they teach. And records of student attainment (and, maybe even more important, student attitude to learning) suggest that their recipe is successful.

Read more about Kunskapsskolan here.

Finland: Liikkeelle! (On the Move!)

Liikkeelle! gets pupils out of the classroom and into their neighbourhoods, studying aspects of the environment such as air quality, noise levels, architecture, urban planning, and local history. Students use these real-world data to pursue group projects, supported by an interdisciplinary team of teachers and using a range of online resources. The school itself becomes a base for their fieldwork and a space for meeting members of the community. 

The projects culminate with events in which students share their findings with professional researchers and representatives from local government. 

Likkeelle! was developed by the City of Kalajoki and the Finnish Science Centre. It is one among many projects that have helped Finland develop its dual reputation as both the most successful and the most innovative education system in the world. At the Innovation in Education conference hosted by Education Guardian and the Innovation Unit, Timo Lankinen (Director General, Finnish National Board of Education) set out Finland’s education strategy. A key element was respect for teachers as researchers and developers of education, rather than only as implementers. 

Read more about Likkeelle! here.

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Entry filed under: Education & Children's Services, Innovation Worldwide, Schools & Multi-School Trusts.

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