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Finnish Preschool Model Takes it To the World

Finnish Preschool Model Takes it To the World
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Picture: Iiris Heikka

We have all heard about Finland’s great education system. From Pisa results to outstanding teacher training programs, Finland has certainly done something right. But at what school level does it all really start? The answer includes an adorable group of six-year-olds wearing brightly colored vests while playing in the frozen schoolyard. In this Nordic nation, the little ones matter and early childhood education is a key element for future success.

We spoke to Sylvia Hakari, the pedagogical director at HEI Schools, to learn more about a new concept that aims to export the Finnish preschool model to the world. In partnership with the University of Helsinki, HEI Schools is a program that seeks to share the Finnish early childhood program with schools all over the world and, by 2020, will have 16 schools in different countries, including China and Australia.

Sylvia described that there are many advantages to the Finnish holistic system, including that the pedagogy is planned from the child’s perspective.

This means, for example, that daily activities are based on playing, exploring, experiencing and moving, which is how children learn. Furthermore, the development of cognitive skills is understood as an individual process. “There is no sense in putting pressure on small children too early before their maturation and pivotal periods are at the developmental peak of learning,” said Sylvia.

“There is no sense in putting pressure on small children too early before their maturation and pivotal periods are at the developmental peak of learning,”

Sylvia Hakari, pedagogical director at HEI schools

In order to accomplish this, a professional can further pinpoint the particular developmental stage by observing and documenting the child’s actions. This method supports the child in their zone of proximal development without stress and comparison. 

Picture: Kim Öhrling

Following the Finnish system also means that no kid should be left out and everyone is valued. Sylvia also explained that early childhood education has the biggest impact on children’s future development, so the smallest children deserve the best education from highly trained professionals. “That has been understood in Finland since its beginnings and is adaptable through HEI Concept all over the world as we have both—a holistic, research-based curriculum together with high-quality teacher training.”

One thing that caught my eye is that, in Finland, preschool starts at age six and not sooner like in other countries. This is because typically, schools are understood as an adult-led place that does not consider the child’s perspective or participation.

Sylvia suggested that “traditional schooling is not the answer for supporting children’s learning. This is known in Finland, where children are given space to grow and develop in a less stressful environment (both physical and psychological) using play, outdoor space and peer community as support in ECEC environments.”

The Finnish concept followed by HEI Schools focuses on less testing, performance, ranking and competition and more creativity and play, exploration, encouragement and development of socio-emotional skills.

How then, do these children later achieve high scores in tests like Pisa, where only academic skills are measured? Well, success is later achieved because transversal skills are the base for adopting new knowledge and skills. “These transversal skills are the ones we focus on as those skills are related to children’s natural maturing and cognitive development. Academic skills are adapted only if the foundation is well formed and without pressure,” Sylvia said.

Next time you see a playful group of preschoolers, remember that it all starts with them. Forget about traditional schooling done from a teacher’s perspective in an overly competitive and stressful environment; in Finland, each child is valued, and their education well planned in advance. As Sylvia shared with us, “Early childhood education in a group setting is sometimes more complex than rocket science!”

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About The Author

Paulina Bouzas

Paulina is our culture and business reporter. She's born and raised in Mexico City. She studies linguistics and enjoys listening to incomprehensible Finnish words as she explores Finland.

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