Finnish pop up school takes over Nevada desert
Who else but a group of Finns would build a pop up school for peer-teaching in the middle of the Nevada desert.
Every autumn the Black Rock desert in Nevada, USA, is transformed into the week-long festival ‘Burning Man’, celebrating art, community and self-expression. The core of the event is Black Rock City, a temporary metropolis of 75 000 participants (called ‘burners’) built just for the duration of the festival. This year one of its prime spots was taken over by Finnish educational project ‘Koulu (School) on Fire’.
“Burning Man is not your typical festival but a kind of a temporary society experiment,” says Elina Koivisto, part of the project team. “At Koulu on Fire, burners were able to spread their learnings, knowledge and skills which fit well with the principles of the festival.”
Run by a group of 20 volunteers (many of them from Finland’s Aalto University), the aim of Koulu on Fire is to make education accessible to everybody. The project is based on the ‘Koulu/School’ peer-learning concept developed by Finnish think tank Demos Helsinki in 2012. It is a simple and easy to disseminate teacher training system founded upon the idea that everybody has something to teach.
“Behind the concept are various learning theories, including that people learn best from their peers,” Koivisto describes.
The five fingers of teaching
During the Burning Man week, the Koulu/School concept was put into practice and Koulu on Fire offered thousands of people a first-hand experience with Finnish education expertise. A 120 square meter space in the desert was converted into a pop up school where anyone could learn to discover their inner teacher.
Short teacher training workshops were used to help people find the thing they would could teach and learn the ‘Five Finger’ method of teaching.
“In simplest terms it is based on a five finger rule,” Koivisto explains. “The hand is an easy cheat sheet we always have with us and every good lesson contains five elements around which it is easy for even an inexperienced teacher to build a class.”
After learning these elements (activation, theorisation, motivation, creating dialogue and practical application), the new peer-teachers were helped to create their first classes. They were able to use the Koulu on Fire space to collaboratively create their own curriculum and teach classes based on their skill set and knowledge.
“You do not have to be an expert in something to teach it. Instead it can be something you are really interested in or passionate about,” Koivisto says. “The class topics varied from bondage to healing a trauma. There was even one on Finnish sauna culture.”
Free the education
The Koulu on Fire space at Burning Man was created with limited resources using recycled local materials. This was to trial and tweak the concept so in future it could be easily set up anywhere in the world, particularly in areas of low infrastructure or temporary settlements where there is no access to formal education.
Currently the project team is working with Finnish humanitarian assistance provider Finn Church Aid to see how Koulu on Fire could be used at refugee camps.
“Later this year we might go in Nepal and then next year to refugee camps in Greece or Jordan,” says Anssi Laurila, co-creator of the Koulu on Fire project. “We still need to do more planning and further hone the concept, but [Burning Man] will not be our last project.”
But Koulu on Fire has an end to goal: to teach the Koulu/School method to as many people as possible so eventually the teaching method spreads organically.
“We hope locals will adopt the method and we offer a tool kit they can use if it feels right for them,” Laurila explains. “The idea is not for us to teach it forever, but to get people excited about it and spread it to their peers.”
Text: Eeva Haaramo