Finland has seen repeated success in national education rankings since it implemented education reforms 40 years ago. Experts have argued that this is due to the fact that it goes against the competitive, evaluation driven and centralised model that we so frequently see in the Western World today. Yet, despite these results being published and continually evident in prime media outlets, the UK is yet to adopt any ‘leanings’ from the Finns and in 2016, continued to lag behind other leading countries in education, taking 15th place out of 70 in the Pisa rankings. Paul Smith, CEO of school communications app, Schoop, explains what we can learn from the Finnish system.
Cooperation is more important than competition
In Finland, there is no emphasis on competition which is prevalent in other Western countries. There are also no private schools but instead, every academic institution is funded through public money. Yet, in 2016 in the UK, it was noted that 7% of the population is privately educated and this ‘educated elite’ continues to dominate leading professions, including journalism, with 51% of leading print journalist said to be educated privately. Arguably, this attitude in the UK in helping to further the progressions of the privileged rather than providing an equal footing for the masses could be seen more of a hindrance to progression in the education sector than a help.
It’s a known fact that children in Finland have very little homework per night. This is said to be a system based on trust between schools, parents and teachers. Instead, time at home is treated as a priority and is reserved for quality family time where children develop social skills. This is very much opposite to attitudes we see in the UK. In 2016, the BBC reported that not only is high amounts of homework impacting children, but it also causes stress for parents. Yet, it is not proved that consistent levels of homework continue to deliver results so over time, many have questioned whether this is even necessary.
College tuition is free
Education in Finland is subsidised by a combination of taxpayer dollars and the Federal government. The Government believes that education is a human right and by providing this education for free it takes away much stress from students, which in turn, is said to allow them to thrive. However, this is unfortunately not an attitude that we see in the UK, where the university experience is treated as a business exchange rather than a divine right. Students who wish to go to University are lumped with fees of £27,000 across three years and many of these individuals are forced to take on a part-time job just to get by rather than focusing their full attention on their studies. This is also being reported to having a negative impact on the overall mental health of our young people which surely cannot be sustainable?
Early education is not measured
In 2016, people in the UK were shocked to read that children as young as six were stressed about exams and results. As a whole, a significant amount of pressure is placed on children and their abilities from a young age in the UK which is measured frequently through tests. Yet Finland shows us that perhaps it doesn’t have to be this way. Before kids learn traditional lessons such as times tables, there is a focus on social skills, teaching children how to play with one another and deal with emotional issues. During this time, children are not measured at all for their performance but are instead taught to develop socially without putting a measure on this. This begs the question: as a teacher or parent, which structure would you prefer?
Teaching is a respected profession
In the UK, we consistently see teacher strikes due to overwhelming expectations and lack of pay. In the Western world, it’s quite common to hear the phrase, ‘Those who can’t do, teach’, which completely undermines what these talented individuals do on a daily basis. Yet, teaching is regarded as a well-respected profession by the Finnish people and due to this attitude, teachers aren’t underpaid. Instead, to become a teacher in Finland, candidates must get their master’s degree and complete a residency programme which provides them with significant levels of experience.
There is much to be learnt from the Finnish education system. Not only do children report being happier and performing better at these younger school days, but in 2011, it was reported that 66% of students go to college, which was the highest rate in Europe and one that the UK should envy – in 2017 it was reported that just 49% of students in England go on to study in University. Granted, university will not be the end goal for all students but the Finnish culture suggests that there are great benefits to their approach and ensuring that education remains an option to all. If the UK chooses to undertake at least some of these reforms, our students across all age ranges could benefit significantly. Realistically, so could our country as a whole.
Filling the UK’s ICT skills gap is one of the hottest topics for government and employers right now.
When I was invited to a Tech Nation meeting at Downing Street in February with the UK alliance partners, the talk was all “skills-gap”. What’s good is that the UK recognises that tech will contribute billions more to the economy than it does today, so is doing something about it – today.
What is the skills gap?
Simply put, the majority of ICT graduates I’ve interviewed for jobs leave university with nothing like the skills modern tech companies, particularly SMEs (small and medium enterprises) like mine, need. Every ICT graduate I’ve employed has been a hobbyist programmer, web developer, or UI designer. They learn what employers want today because they teach themselves in their spare time. That means the curriculum is not keeping up with the industry, and how can it?
A three or four year degree cannot flex enough to accommodate advances in tech. So universities and employers need to work more closely to bridge the gap that will prepare students for work. SMEs are more agile, and can quickly adopt new technology because they’re not anchored in to legacy platforms that can take a long time to break away from or redevelop.
With e-Skills UK estimating that Europe could be facing a skills gap of 900,000 skilled ICT workers by 2019/2020, up-skilling is unquestionably essential – so where do we begin?
This is where universities and government are looking UK-wide to establish successful tech hubs that bring together SMEs and innovators in a spirit of collaboration – sharing new ideas, and building strategic partnerships.
As a ‘Digital Dozen’ ambassador for UK Tech event Digital 2015, I firmly believe in the power that these events have in terms of bringing entrepreneurs and thought-leaders together to establish meaningful relationships and inspire the next generation of digital thinkers.
Giving people the opportunity to learn about digital skills in the company of prospective employers, recruiters and training companies is a step in the right direction. Raising awareness of opportunities in digital industries and talking about the potential of technology will encourage people take ownership of their futures, follow their entrepreneurial instincts, and enter the digital sphere.
Based in South Wales, which is the fastest growing tech hub in Europe, Schoop has benefited from being a part of Tech Nation Alliance Partner. I had no idea there were so many bright and blooming tech companies right on my doorstep that we can learn from, and grow together. There are similar alliance partners throughout the UK.
Bodies like the ESTNet (The Electronic and Software Technologies Network for Wales) have also launched campaigns to help upskill ‘work ready graduates’ in partnership with technology companies, local universities and the Welsh Government.
Projects like these give companies the opportunity to employ an undergraduate from the electronic engineering or computer science departments at leading universities to work on a project specific to the business. Perfect! This is exactly the kind of initiative we discussed at Number 10.
Can education and the UK government do more?
There is definitely room for improvement. Events and collaborative tech-hubs need to gather momentum, and continue to become bigger and brighter beacons that inspire future generations.
If these kinds of events and projects continue to be rolled out, and keep their funding, then those undergraduates can go back to university and drive the changes required in the curriculum. Education should be prepared to learn something back.
by Paul Smith, Founder & CTO, Schoop