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Finnish exchange delivers positive experiences

December 5, 2017 J-C Couture, ATA Associate Co-ordinator of Research
Executive Report

“I don’t want to be shy anymore. I want to be positive and do the best work possible and be outgoing at my workplace.”

This was the sentiment expressed by Jiina Salomaa, a student from Turku Vocational Upper Secondary School in Finland. In 2016 Salomaa had spent a month living with two Canadian families as part of a network of six Edmonton high schools involved in the Finland–Alberta (FINAL) partnership program co-ordinated by the Alberta Teachers’ Association.

Salomaa shared her view as part of a panel of Finnish students and teachers participating in the first Canada–Finland vocational network-training seminar held Nov. 9 in Turku, Finland. This inaugural summit hosted Finnish students, teachers and principals from Canada and Finland, officials from the Canadian Embassy to Finland and members of the Finnish National Agency for Education. Along with the FINAL network, for eight years these partnerships have included municipalities from across Finland and three Canadian provinces: Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec.

Jean Stiles, the principal representative on the Association’s international partnership steering group, represented Alberta schools at the summit.

“The work to establish international networks between schools in Canada and Finland seemed a natural fit as both our countries share common values and goals for education and for community life,” Stiles observed.

Finland has shown a strong commitment to developing equity by broadening the parameters of success in school, student mobility and teacher autonomy. It has been involved in extensive partnerships within the European Union and beyond, including Canada, China, India and Japan.

Stiles said the presentations by students and teachers at the summit carried a consistent message.

“Throughout the day it was clear that amidst the volatility of environmental challenges and increasing economic and political instability, both Alberta and Finland share a commitment to sustaining an inclusive society where the values of curiosity, empathy and human relationships are central to educational development,” she said.

The summit presentations and demonstrations illustrated how exemplary teaching and school leadership practices could directly involve students in informing educational change.

The day finished with a compelling presentation entitled Best Practices to Next Practices by one of the Finnish partnership leaders, who stressed that competence must become more than a series of decontextualized outcomes.

For example, Finnish students who spend a month in Canada are expected to return with a reflective journal documenting their learning experiences, including suggestions for the Finnish Agency for Education on how to enhance the internationalization of vocational education in order to strengthen the competitiveness and quality of Finnish working life.

Throughout the Turku summit, a number of participants expressed interest in expanding the possibility for more Canadian students to spend time in Finland just as the Finnish students experience a month exchange in a Canadian province.

In this respect, Edmonton Public’s school network has been the only partnership to see Canadian students return to Finland and live with Finnish families for two weeks as they visited vocational schools.

Sustained student time in schools in other countries was a key element highlighted by both Andree Noelle Cooligan, the Canadian ambassador to Finland, and John Kaye of the Embassy of Canada to Finland.

“Co-operation by our countries is on a great level but it can still be enhanced and deepened,” Kaye said.

This Turku summit continues some of the critical work that has been undertaken between Finland and Alberta for the past eight years, said ATA president Greg Jeffery. The Association has been instrumental in supporting these international partnerships since 2010.

“Our partnership networks involving Norway and New Zealand continue to have positive impact not only in schools, but [they] have also helped to inform educational change in curriculum redevelopment, high school redesign and how we define student success,” Jeffery said.

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