Friday 23 August 2013

Finland looks to Singapore for ideas

Education Minister hopes to ‘learn from the best of the best’ on educational technologies, innovative teaching methods
By Ng Jing Yng, TODAY, 22 Aug 2013

The current buzz phrase in the Republic’s education system, “every school is a good school”, is in fact the principle on which the Finnish education model was built over the last four decades.

But as Singapore strives to realise this vision, Finland’s widely praised education system is being challenged because of an increasingly diverse student population, said the country’s Minister for Education and Science Krista Kiuru.

In an interview with TODAY, Ms Kiuru also responded to doubts about her country’s education system, given the high number of jobless youths. The solution does not lie in changing the education system but in spurring economic growth and creating jobs in an economy which has been weighed down by the euro-zone malaise, she said.

Ms Kiuru, 39, was in town on Tuesday for a day to visit Rulang Primary School and met several Singapore officials, including Director-General of Education Ho Peng and Senior Parliamentary Secretary Sim Ann.

It was the first study trip by a Finnish Education Minister to the Republic. Singapore’s Ministry of Education said on its Facebook page that Ms Kiuru was here to “learn more about the Singapore education system and explore further opportunities for both education systems to learn from each other”.

Ms Kiuru’s delegation consisted of educational technology experts and business leaders, including Mr Peter Vesterbacka, Chief Marketing Officer of Rovio, the company behind the Angry Birds game. Singapore was one of the stops, along with Malaysia and Indonesia, of their four-day visit to Asia.

Ms Kiuru said she was here to “learn from the best of the best” on using technologies in learning and to look for innovative teaching methods.

“I definitely believe we can learn from you ... We cannot be one of the top-class education organisers if we don’t believe that we can develop the system (to) meet future challenges,” she said.

As Singapore’s education system evolves, the Finnish model has often been held up by educators and Members of Parliament here as one to emulate.

However, Ms Kiuru — who was a teacher for 11 years before she became a Member of Parliament in 2007 — revealed that the Finnish egalitarian education system is under pressure from globalisation and greater awareness about special learning needs. Some schools in the suburbs, for example, are seeing more pupils with special needs or immigrants. This stretches the schools’ resources, she said.

Her ministry is providing additional resources to educators to ensure that all schools remain on an equal footing. Otherwise, “schools will have to start competing among themselves”, she said. “We like to keep all the schools, especially primary schools, at the same level so that the parents don’t have to start picking which ones are the better schools.”

On Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong cited the examples of the United States and Finland during his National Day Rally speech as he cautioned how the best intentions of policymakers do not necessarily produce desired outcomes.

He noted that Finland has comprehensive protections for workers as well as a successful economy and good education system, yet 20 per cent of its youth are unemployed.

Ms Kiuru reiterated that Finnish schools will continue to equip students for the marketplace, as the government focuses on adding jobs. Earlier this year, the Finnish government introduced a scheme to offer youths jobs and training places within three months of becoming unemployed.

On the education front, her ministry is reviewing what children are being taught and considering setting up a “national education cloud” for teachers and children where educational resources can be shared.

Ms Kiuru said Finland could collaborate with Singapore on several areas, such as the sharing of Finnish educational technology expertise and exchanging tips on teacher training and groupwork in the classroom.

At Rulang Primary, she observed a robotics and a Chinese Language class. Reliving her days as an educator, she spontaneously broke into song and dance as she taught the students how to perform a Finnish children’s song.

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