Supporting social mobility – a lesson from Croatia

Our friends in Croatia undertook an interesting experiment, codenamed, “Fresh Start,” a couple of months ago in February 2015. They decided to write off the debt of 60,000 of Croatia’s poorest citizens. This debt write-off was a one-time move by a leftist government (incidentally a government that faces a key election and one can therefore take a cynical view that this is merely an election ploy but I’ve chosen to focus on the wider social/economic benefits this initiative can provide).

“Fresh Start” was essentially a programme that was designed to help the poorest and most vulnerable citizens cope with an economic crisis for which they had little or no responsibility.

The initiative in brief:

Croats whose debts do not exceed 35,000 Croat Kuna (or 4,800 Euros) and whose bank accounts have been frozen for over a year can apply under the scheme to have their total debts written off.

Under the plan, only those with a monthly income in the last three months that did not exceed 2,500 kuna (340 Euros) are eligible.

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Finland’s progressive philosophy to education

Having just visited Helsinki, a city I would strongly recommend visiting, I learnt a fair bit about Finland’s overall philosophy to education, learning and development. This came through discussions I had with a number of people whom I met whilst travelling there.

Learning to skate in Helsinki city centre

Introduction

Finland provides a great blueprint for establishing a world-class education system that instills a philosophy of holistic development, lifelong learning and an ethos geared towards the progress of not just self, but of society as a whole.

The Finnish education standards are also amongst the highest in the world, under most global indicators, from the Education Index produced by the UN Human Development Index, to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), to surveys conducted by the World Economic Forum (WEF).

I think it will be useful to start this short discourse on Finland’s education system with this quote:

“Finnish early childhood education emphasizes respect for each child’s individuality and the chance for each child to develop as a unique person. Finnish early educators also guide children in the development of social and interactive skills, encourage them to pay attention to other people’s needs and interests, to care about others, and to have a positive attitude toward other people, other cultures, and different environments. The purpose of gradually providing opportunities for increased independence is to enable all children to take care of themselves as “becoming adults, to be capable of making responsible decisions, to participate productively in society as an active citizen, and to take care of other people who will need his [or her] help.” – Anneli Nikko.

This pretty much encapsulates the overall philosophy the Finns have adopted towards education and learning.

It is worth noting the following points about education in Finland:

  • All education is free (including fully subsidised hot meals for all students).
  • Parents of new born babies are given books to read to the children – to inculcate a habit of reading!
  • There are no university tuition fees and benefits are provided for university students.
  • All children have to learn 2 foreign languages in addition to Finnish.
  • The values of living in harmony with one another and respect for all cultures, traditions and faiths are taught very early on in a child’s life.

A happy, multicultural childhood

The advent of ‘phenomenon’ teaching

Finland’s leading educators, despite their formidable achievements, have not sat on their laurels. They have continued to identify the changing trends taking place within the wider global economy and labour trends and are adapting to meet the rising challenges.

Across most parts of the world, there is a pressing issue of youth unemployment, which ranges from 25 to 50%, across Spain, Greece, Saudi Arabia and major economies. This is partly due to ‘skills mismatch’ that occurs as a result of employers not getting the skills they need from individuals who leave the schools’ systems.

What Finland is undertaking now is a radical reform that is scrapping, in a phased manner, the traditional teaching by subjects (such as learning maths, English, history, etc discretely) and instead focussing on teaching by topic areas.

For instance, students may learn about ‘business planning’ which will be a combination of languages, Maths, communication skills and writing skills. Some students may learn about the European Union, which will be a combination of history, economics, languages and geography. This inter-disciplinary approach will also help students make the links between the subjects they learn and how it can be applied in the real world rather than learn them as mere abstract subjects without necessarily viewing why they are important.

As part of the reforms, students are also working in smaller groups from an earlier stage to improve communication skills, embed a spirit of collaboration and solving problems and thinking of new ideas.

Interestingly enough, pupils, under this new education framework, will also be more involved in the planning and assessment of these phenomenon-based lessons, encouraging pupils to take ownership of their education and development.

Marjo Kyllonen sums it up best: “We really need a rethinking of education and a redesigning of our system, so it prepares our children for the future with the skills that are needed for today and tomorrow”

Best education in the world

There is a significant amount for the rest of the world, and particularly Asia, to learn from the Finnish education system. The education systems across most parts of Asia do produce technically competent and highly skilled individuals, but are more geared towards exams and merely scholastic achievement when learning should be more holistic.

As I said at the start, Finland – a great country and a great place to live and learn!