I know for a fact that I only spent two days meeting Finnish education professionals: researchers, professors, teachers, directors, students, etc. I know that my vision of things is not complete and that I paint only a partial picture. Despite everything, here are some relevant comments related to my Finnish school adventure.
The Finns are naturally reserved. I knew it since I had met Pasi sahlberg a few years ago and I had found him not very talkative for a public figure. Indeed, having experienced it, the Finns are comfortable in silence. They are not particularly fond of unnecessary noise and they do not feel the need to fill in the moments of silence in a conversation. In general, they are a quiet and disciplined people and they enjoy keeping their distance from strangers.
In schools, it's a bit the same thing: it's quiet. Students are disciplined, but are active. In the first school I visited, I did not see any class with desks arranged in "row of onions". Any. The students work intuitively and in collaboration: they are standing, moving around, discussing. In short, they are active and the classes often follow the configuration of a flexible arrangement.
What surprised me the most is that the students, for the most part, do not wear shoes! Yes, you read that correctly: they spend their day in socks or slippers! Teachers also wear slippers or sandals with socks. I couldn't believe it! I asked the question to a teacher and the principal. What if someone gets hurt? What if the fire alarm sounds and the students have to evacuate? Do you have a few hundred kids in socks outside in the snow in sub-freezing temperatures? I explained to them that in Quebec, young people had to wear their shoes at all times and that staff members could not even wear sandals without a heel strap for reasons of health and safety at work… they threw me away. a look filled with incomprehension.
I also visited a school called "upper school", attended by students from 16 to 19 years old. The school is an artistic one and the students have a pretty incredible level of freedom. The doors of all premises are unlocked and they can go anywhere to advance their work during their free time. Yes, you will have understood that the pupils already have "holes" in their timetable! To this end, four examples from my visits come to mind:
First, students work on a project they have already started. They are two, in a room to work the fabric, with sewing machines. There is no teacher on site!
Others play a musical piece in a small theater. There are five or six of them playing in a corner. Again, no teacher around.
Third, I'm going to attend an art history class. About thirty young people are in the class. The teacher comes to greet me and offers to show me the work of her students, which is stored in premises scattered over the four floors of the school. She therefore leaves her thirty students to go with me for about fifteen minutes!
I ask him: "are you going to leave your students alone?" "
She replies: “Yes! They know what they have to do! "
What more can be said?
Finally, during recess, children slide on a hill in the schoolyard, a track designed for children and at the foot of which stands a pole. I stopped to watch them slide, wondering when the inevitable was going to happen. No accident!
Behind me, on the other side of a path, two kids are bickering amicably. The first is climbed on the other as if to perfect his wrestling techniques.
It seems to me that the students are trusted. We let them be children. There are no worries about the possible implications of liability or injury. We let them play and channel their positive energy. Maybe that's why they are calm when they get back to class?
We make sure that everyone is comfortable in their school environment and that they feel good there, whether they are wearing stockings, sandals or whether they have the taste of sliding outside on a small icy slope in front of a pole.
Perhaps some of you draw a hasty conclusion: they are reserved, cold and they leave their students alone in a room without supervision in addition… think again! The overall picture I make of them is that they are extremely caring and warm with young people. They are on the lookout, but they certainly want to help make their students independent and, possibly, they feel that this does not necessarily have to go through continual constraint ...
In addition, we must not forget that European society and North American society are very different and that, possibly, the issues related to civil liability differ from one place to another.
This article is part of a series published by our author and collaborator Marc-André Girard, as part of his participation in the Laboratory of innovation and digital in education (LINE) at the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis.