Background and success factors of the Finnish school reform   (Published: 14.10.2018)

Creation of a value base during Finnish autonomy

During the Autonomy (1809-1917), the school reform policy was dominated by the actor Uno Cygnaeus. Thoughts on the Finnish nook school and its aims were based on his experience as a young teacher in Alaska, the overseas Russian region he served. After returning from Alaska he worked for 14 years in St. Petersburg and for a long stay and co-operation with St. Petersburg's Finnish community. At the same time, he became acquainted with the Germans who were recruited to reform Russian school system in St. Petersburg.

This produced tangible results in the development of the Finnish teaching system. The Finnish School of Education received the first teacher seminar in Jyväskylä in 1863. The Jyväskylä seminar for decades denoted the development of the content and methods of Finnish folk education. Since 1917 responsibility for raising the civic level of education in independent Finland was in the hands of the country. Reforms were made at all levels, and Finnish-language teaching saw the status of daylight alongside the Swedish and Russian language lessons.

Although Finland was administratively one entity, the development of the education sector showed discrepancies between the different parts of the country, particularly in the vocational education sector. Both language questions (Swedish and Russian) influenced the teaching. Coastal towns, and the towns of the Gulf of Bothnia, were engaged in merchant shipping and import/export related activities that required knowledge of languages ​​and international conditions.

Part of this more open interaction with the outside world was immigration to North America, which began in the late 18th century and continued until the early days of independent Finland among the Swedish-speaking population of the Gulf of Bothnia. Later immigration became a two-step process and spread also among the Finnish-speaking population in Ostrobothnia as an immediate migration to the United States and Canada in the Great Lakes region of North America.

After Finland's accession to Russia in 1809, a new season began in the history of Finnish statehood development. Finland was not subjugated to the Russian empire under other minority nationalities, but Finland also had an exceptionally autonomous status in Russia's state-of-the-art development. In terms of modern terms, it was an obvious situation where both sides won despite the differences in the country sizes.
In that development, especially in the fields of People’s education and raising the level of civilization, things that generated the development of the nation's cultural state. There was a Fennomania movement, the road map to own independent state. In addition to the Swedish language, the Russian language rose as language of administration. In the early decades, Finnish language still awaited its coming. St. Petersburg, Russia's west-oriented capital evolved from multilingual new influences from Western Europe.

St Petersburg's construction and support to food supply also gave South East Finland more developed infrastructure than the rest of the country, which later expanded to cover all southern Finland. Amongst other things, it was told that as many as 50 Finnish designers and goldsmiths were working in house of Fabergé in St. Petersburg. At its best in the late 19th century, over 30,000 Finns lived in St. Petersburg.

In the overall development of Finland, the period of autonomy between 1809 and 1917 was significant. The mental atmosphere was diversified, and a new initially Swedish-based military and civilian nobleman was born. This new nobility was loyal to the Russian Empire and for the first time in the Finnish historical aristocracy also for the people. Stories about the arrests of Bothnia region males “with own law and order knives” and the precautionary measures by the Finnish representative of the policy tells us about this change of values. Representatives of the minority ethnic minorities in Russia (Jews, Tatars and Slavic minorities) brought multilingualism and a new set of values ​​to ordinary people during autonomy as a diversifier of the old "East-Karelian peddlers in rural areas in Finland”. 

Independence and post-World War II

The time after the Russian Revolution from 1917 until the Second World War was a very special time in the development of the Finnish social and cultural values. In the main, Finland was a transit territory as the present Mediterranean countries in the Arab countries and African mass migration. In Finland, in these circumstances, some seven thousand Russian-speaking emigrant communities were formed, including the ethnic minorities mentioned earlier. However, Russian-speaking minority groups often adopted Swedish as their home language, which enabled better adaptation and employment opportunities in Finland and elsewhere in the Nordic countries.

The payment of war damages for the three wars with the FSU in 1939-1945 and the war reparations stipulated in the Paris Peace Treaty 1947 to remedy the damage to the Soviet Union gave rise to positive results in the overall balance of the war. Finland had to create new know-how and production capacity in paying for military damage compensation on the ex-Finnish territories. The prize was the construction of a new vision for the future and the identification of its needs. Mackerel was not allowed to give room in the nation's collective consciousness.

The world after the Second World War had two dimensions. A general raising of the civilization level of the nation, which expanded from church-led setup to a more secular understanding of life and healthy lifestyle. At the time, language skills and interaction between cultures / people did not yet have the same significance as today's EU-Finland or coastal cities and Southeast Finland Autonomy, when at the very best in the late 19th century there were more than 30,000 Finnish people living in St. Petersburg.

The urban and also rural reconstruction of settlements for the lost territories population in territory of Finland proper became acute problems in social policy. There was a dream of similar  industrialization based on the experiences of the 19th century. Post-war industrialization was, however, a more demanding process in the sense of the mind and its extent. The social extension emerged in the organization of basic education based on NGOs and volunteering. The state was concerned with major problems - politicians had no clear vision or financial resources to deal with education reform.

The reform of comprehensive education at the beginning of the 1960s was channeled to other parties interested in civic activity and the development of teaching, it was included in the newly established the Family Federation of Finland action program as described in source paper "The Forgotten Architects of the Reform of the School Reform" of this text detailing things and events in industrialized west coast in Southern Finland as a result of two-person civic activity in munipality of Kiukainen where in 1962 was founded School Reform Association, which bundled fragmented ideas apart from school reform into one coherent entity.

A School ReformCentre was estavblished under auspices of the School Reform Assoaciation in Kiukainen. These R & D activities were transferred to premises of the Family Federation of Finland in Helsinki and subordinated to its education sector development operations (later on formed as the “School Design Office” under General Secretary of Family Federation of Finland (IATOD), later Executive Director of Mannerheim's Welfare Association's Executive Director and two times as Minister of Education MSc Jaakko Itälä. Jaakko Itälä brought reforming the teaching into a powerful equality dimension and the role of public authority in the design and implementation of reform and the necessary reform of the regulatory basis  through structural reform of the sector from the 1970s onwards in the coming decades.

Administrative dimensions of reforms

Reforms in the education sector often have two dimensions. Internal dynamics of the school and external expectations of the school. The school reform was supposed to support simultaneous reform of society and its structures on the basis of educational equality. The replacement of the parallel school system by a single comprehensive school system, whereby the entire age group would get the same level of education on the basis of educational equality. The outside world was not ready for it. The political right questioned the objectives of the reform and the political center and the left settled behind the comprehensive school reform.
Earlier this goal was largely adopted by Swedish school reform. The Swedish model was a model in many respects. In Finland, the reform of the comprehensive school paid particular attention to teacher education. The teacher seminars were abolished and teacher education was transferred to universities at the institutes of educational institutes creating new units. Simultaneous renewal of teacher education was a strategic choice that secured the transition and success of the reform through people's commitment to its long-term implementation content and teaching/learning methods reform.

Both the autonomy of the time and the reform of autonomous Finnish education systems have had an administrative dimension. In the 19th century, when reforming sectoral administration, the model was introduced from the Russian administration system, which was introduced in the Autonomous Period throughout the Realm, not just in the education sector. It took more than 50 years after annexxation of Finland to Russia before the gatering of State Legislature was met in 1863 and began to develop the administration and regulations of the autonomous Finnish territory. The National Board of Education during the autonomy was founded in 1870.

Otherwise, it was carried out on imperial government regulations and operating mechanisms. Independent universal and equal right to vote, a unicameral parliamentary term of three years was elected in 1906, replacing the Constitution of the Legislature Days, which started its old 1869 establishment, and the development of the society went into the hands of the Finns, however, calling for the delightful imperial acceptance of the laws.

Since the beginning of the 1960s, there have been two strong administrative areas in the reform work of Finnish national education, which were jointly undertaken by the School Reform Association / Family Federation of Finland and subsequently also as the Minister of Education Jaakko Itälä. There is no equivalent national competence and such an exercise anywhere in the world. The goal setting / realization of educational equality is the core objective of the Finnish comprehensive school reform, which in the 1970s and 1980s became a living school as a great partnership effort of teachers, pupils and parents and school authorities, which started in Kiukainen municipality in the early 1960s.

Jaakko Itälä with the Finnish teaching and learning community, has been able to describe things so clearly in everyone's understanding through action of two Education Development Committees and their reports: the Education Committee (1969) and the 1971 Training Committee. They have analyzed and described the subjects of the education sector in a way that makes them room for many other reforming countries. Those two reports should be translated into English and published prominently on the homepage of the Ministry of Education and Culture as Finnish success stories.

Reform of content and methods of learning

Kiukainen municipality experiment and School Reform Association’s work was important both in the relationship between the renewing school in the external world and in the content-based reform withing the education sector. Municipalities, regional politics and the evolving administration of the school sector through active committee work brought about a change in social peculiarity that arguing opponents in the reforming forums themselves began to dwindle and only "the skeptical suspects of the right politicians had their voice in the media and were at risk of turning themselves into role of retarded persons in this debate on intellectual growth and human ability in racing wooing in the Finnish play “Nummisuutarit”.

The common interests and organizing of the activities of the school-based reformers in Kiukainen municipality and the people of Family Federation of Finland, as an internal issue of the education sector in whole and the school world, was a major factor in the structuring of the whole sector with linkage to potential reforms to the entire knowledge management in the country. In this connection, internal co-operation was raised, for example. the following strategic issues emerged: between education and vocational training - already in the starting point of Kiukainen reform, raising the professional skills was one of the core driving forces in setting up Kiukainen Education Reform Assocciation/Family Federation of Finland Reform Program.

In the same category, projects can be implemented through informal Summer University courses linked formal curricula and Summer Gymnasiums quarters to provide non-institutional solutions for renewing the internal activities of the education sector and accelerating the changes both at the individual level and in the collection of experience in regions / municipalities. At a later implementation stage, number of the Summer University Institutes participated in ad-hoc based teacher qualifications in the implementation of the comprehensive school reform.

One of the most significant issues is also making teaching methods more interactive in
accordance with the American pedagogical studies and practices in the 1960’s. Finland was one of the most prominent countries in Europe capable of transferring American interactive teaching aaproach to the development of its own school system by the well-functioning ASLA-Fulbright program already in the 1960s. In particular, mention should be made of the work of the University of Helsinki and the results of the education of the elementary school teaching methods and the establishment of an interactive teaching method standard in Finnish teacher education and teaching activities incomprehensive school and in the field at other levels and sub-areas of teaching.

The fourth aspect that has been addressed in Finland in the context of the comprehensive school reform is related to the evaluation of the results of the teaching and feedback on the work accomplished in achieving the objectives set. There are two areas for monitoring and evaluating the education sector: 1) how effective and the results society receives from its school system and 2) what the learner learns about this process and how he can use the information he receives in his / her own life. Finland has been involved in international comparisons (OECD PISA and IEA Evaluation Programs) and continues to develop its own national tools in areas where international comparisons do not provide answers to the country's socio-economic development issues.

Continuous learning principle in Finland

Continuous, lifelong learning and education has grown over the last decades as a key "mantra" in national and international discussions on teaching and learning. As long as the principle put forward by Descartes' "Cogito ergo sum" - I think therefore I am "operates at the individual level, there is no great need to maintain and spread things at level that is not a priority. There is limited space in the mind of a human being, therefore it is necessary to be able to fill it with consideration, depending on the need, varying between relasing space or adding things.

This gives rise to the question of how teaching and learning are organized. Institutional training structures (institutionalization of teaching / learning) are a long-term process for the mother-to-child process from the process of comprehensive education and the formation of higher education institutions with more demanding content requirements. People learn most of their cognitive, social, and physical abilities in non-institutional learning situations. The current emphasis on lifelong education emphasizes too much an institutional approach.

Institutional teaching and learning situations may also be useful in those situations where recourse to "learning outcomes" is needed to create space and create new capacity for the use of human mind space space for multipolar use in the management of information technology and increased data volumes. Early childhood education has been featured in recent years. There is
requirement for incorporating it into a lifelong learning and formal learning system. In the past, preschool early education was dealt separately as an independent entity apart from the formal education.

Internationality as a part of basic education

Accession to Finland the EU has been in many respects comparable to the withdrawal from Finnish territories from Sweden and achieving an autonomous status in 1809 with Russia. EU membership was a completely opposite phenomenon in which the decision to join the EU after the referendum, Finland abandoned its right to decision-making in many matters. As part of the process, Finland, like other EU Member States, has got something new to replace the old status. .

Finns have two approaches to EU membership. Suspects say, "EU membership is the start and destruction of the end of the developed system of public and comprehensive education developed on our own terms". While more hopeful people see the case, "We are good at know-how and knowledge of education, which is also demanded outside Finland outside the EU and in the rest of the world."

However, it is important to remember the debate on essence of education competence. Aging is a cognitive process that is very culturally linked. Is it necessary to care for one's own learning more important than teaching others? Everyone, generation, country and world community are those who make choice. As the climate warms up, people need to protect their environment so that even some apples fall from the tree, root and produce new fruit. We live in times where no matter how far the apple falls, as long as it just drops…

© Asumer Oy / Heikki K. Auvinen, 2018, All Rights Reserved.

-The forgotten architects of the reform of the school reform, article by Markku Niemi and Eva-Maria Aro, Science 4, 2017;
-Asumer Oy's Development Aid archives from 1968 to 2018 & website:


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