Educate Global will send its first group of travelers to Finland this May for a two-week immersion in the Finnish Comprehensive School Curriculum, Content and Language Integrated Learning Method.
Students will learn Finnish philosophies in classroom management, lesson planning and project work guidance. They also will receive an introduction to the cultural and language education of the Sami, indigenous people of northern Europe.
In Finland, they will find a country close to the Arctic Circle where the Internet is often free and online education is a longtime and widespread practice, and where some schools have no classrooms or desks because those are innovations worth trying.
The new program, which will select between four and six NIU College of Education teacher-licensure candidates as participants, is a labor of love for Jodi Lampi.
An assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Lampi made a similar voyage herself as an undergraduate at Northern Michigan University.
“I actually did my own student-teaching in Finland at an International Baccalaureate High School that was all English-speaking,” says Lampi, who also is director of NIU’s Academic Literacy and Learning Program.
“When I heard that our college was doing these different Educate and Engage opportunities, I thought I’d reach out,” she adds. “Raija Johnson, my cooperating teacher’s wife, is the principal of a brand new elementary school. She was very amicable to it.”
Huskies chosen for the trip to Liminka, Finland, will observe and practice at Ojanperä School, home to children in first- through fourth-grade, where the mandatory eight years of English instruction has begun.
Language lessons will require the NIU students to teach not just English vocabulary but context, something that enriches comprehension of the “third required language” behind the official languages of Finnish and Swedish.
Off the “job,” they will stay individually with local host families to amplify the strong cultural experience.
Benefits of the exchange will prove mutual, Lampi says.
“Finland is a Western country. They don’t have to export teachers or import teachers. They have good educational systems. They do so well because they like to learn about global education systems and are eager to pull best practices from around the world,” she says. “The one thing they don’t have is a lot of racial and ethnic diversity. People of color are there, but are not as vast or common. Introducing children to diverse cultures and people in earlier grades is really important.”
NIU’s students, meanwhile, will gain “another perspective on how education can occur in a society,” says Terry Borg, director of the college’s Office of External and Global Programs, “and, more than the methods of teaching, how society values teachers and the place of teachers.”
“Given how teachers are often criticized and undervalued, and how the profession is increasingly disrespected in our society, it will be good for our students to see how in other societies the profession is excelling,” Borg says.
“There is a respect for education,” Lampi adds, “and teachers value themselves in society as educators for what they can provide to students, the field of education and their peers.”
Mostly, however, NIU’s students will glimpse an educational system unlike than U.S. model.
It’s one that Lampi believes will influence the Educate Global travelers to become teachers who are more receptive to best practices, better able to listen to student needs, highly flexible to changes “on the spot and as they plan” and aware that “there’s not just one right way to do things.”
For example, Finnish children enter school at age 7.
Their culture values “the different stages of live,” including childhood, Lampi says, and the early years are meant for imagination and play. Indeed, she adds, in many schools 15 minutes of every classroom hour are devoted to recess or activity. Many teachers will take their classes outdoors or, if available, into nearby forests.
When students reach the end of their ninth year of comprehensive school, they have the option of high school or trade school, both of which can lead to academic or vocational education at polytechnic or university systems.
Neither decision is wrong, she says: “Education and insight are valued and respected, but so is staying at home to be a parent. They value the family entity,” she says. “Their gender equality is much more advanced than ours. They’ve already had their first woman president.”
Some students do not graduate from high school until age 20 or 21, meanwhile, because they’ve taken opportunities for travel or as foreign exchange students.
Life outside the fast lane – if even temporarily – is a concept embraced across generations.
“They value leisure time and the importance of downtime,” Lampi says. “Taking a break to focus on family, or to focus on children, is very important to their society, and oftentimes, they workers are better for it because they’re given that time to take a breath.”
“Respect” is universal and integral in Finland, she adds, and is important for her Huskies to witness.
Children and even adults are asked to remove their shoes whenever they enter a school or home. And while they often are reserved in public settings – “You can be on a train, and no one will talk to you. No one will look at you,” Lampi says – the Finnish are amazingly hospitable in their homes, treating guests like kings.
Professor Lampi knows this well.
Her late grandfather was born and raised in Finland; unfortunately, he died before the birth of Lampi’s father, and much of that heritage was lost.
Wanting to connect with his roots, her father eventually learned Finnish on his own. Lampi and six of her 13 siblings also spent a year at a “folk college” in Finland to learn about the land her grandparents called home.
Afterward, she approached her professors at Northern Michigan with her desire for a cultural exchange in Finland – not a country with which they had a partnership or program.
Told she would need to make arrangements herself, she replied: “OK, I have a placement.” It was with Maury Johnson, husband of Raija.
One decade later, as she prepares to return, Lampi hopes to escort NIU students who share the same traits she exhibited as an undergraduate.
“I’m looking for the ability to respect others, not just others like them but others are different from them, and the ability to embrace differences, whether or not they accept them,” she says.
“I’m looking for the ability to honor and respect the different roles people play,” she adds. “I’m looking for mental fortitude to be in a different culture, to be with host families, to be away from home for a couple weeks in place where they might not know how to talk that well.”