January 15, 2019

Learning it the Finland way – with FinlandWay

FinlandWay’s aim is to help families and children at the stage when learning skills and motivation are developed.
FinlandWay’s aim is to help families and children at the stage when learning skills and motivation are developed.
Screenshot/ FinlandWay

Finns don’t always understand how good they have it when it comes to education. The FinlandWay system wants to share the recipe with the rest of the world.

Noora Laitio’s career has taken her all over the world. She has worked for and with the likes of the World Bank, the European Investment Bank, the UN, Cambridge University and the World Economic Forum, on five continents in total.

As the languages, cultures, currencies and climates around her have changed, one thing hasn’t. Wherever she has been and whomever she has met, people have brought up one thing about her country of origin: education.

“Be it Nigeria, India or Brazil, or a taxi driver in Chile, I was constantly told that ‘you guys have the best education system’. I began to realise the level of brand recognition.”

People kept on asking for solutions that could help implement similar practices in their own countries, and Laitio did seek for them – to no avail. The next question she had in mind was pretty obvious for someone who has worked with business, development, impact and scalable solutions: Can Finnish education be packaged and brought to [fill in the blank with the name of any country]?

“Brits, Canadians, Americans and Singaporeans seemed to be branding and scaling their school chains. I couldn’t help but wonder why Finns weren’t doing it.”

Laitio pitched the thought of combining Finnish teacher training, curriculum, design and technology to her then-colleagues at the World Bank in Washington. By the time she had finished, their only concern was: “What are you still doing here talking? All talk, no action!”

“Would you like to save the world with me?”

Dr Jonna Kangas (left), FinlandWay school pupils and staff in Santiago de Surco, Lima, Peru, and Noora Laitio (right).

Dr Jonna Kangas (left), FinlandWay school pupils and staff in Santiago de Surco, Lima, Peru, and Noora Laitio (right).

Nathalie Meza

However, as an economist and not an education expert, Laitio needed a specialist partner to begin realising her vision. She stumbled across the name of Dr Jonna Kangas, a researcher and lecturer at the University of Helsinki and an internationally published author in participatory play-based pedagogy, and decided to send her a message with an ambitious subject line: “Would you like to save the world with me?”

“It probably sounded pretty naïve,” Laitio admits laughingly – but it all lead to the two women, previously unknown to each other, founding a company and establishing a concept called FinlandWay International Preschools.

Together, Laitio and Kangas started studying end-user needs and developing research-based educational content and a framework for the entire package. The first pilots were conducted in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with the help of funding from Finnpartnership, and later further tests were made in São Paulo as well as Lima, Peru.

A lot has happened since: currently, requests and contacts are flooding in from dozens of countries to the six-strong FinlandWay team. FinlandWay schools have been established Brazil, Peru and Vietnam, with expansion plans both in Latin America and in Southeast Asia – and elsewhere when the time is right.

Laitio emphasises that the company wants to make FinlandWay an accessible solution to the world’s growing middle classes.

“We don’t aim for premium pricing but want to offer premium quality,” Laitio concludes.

Spreading solidarity and equality

Being economically accessible without compromising on quality is a core part of the company’s philosophy.

Being economically accessible without compromising on quality is a core part of the company’s philosophy.

Screenshot/FinlandWay

FinlandWay serves both new and existing schools. All practices are research-based, and the goal is to train local teachers to adopt Finnish teaching methods and technologies.

Laitio notes that the system also supports reporting the results of the whole school, as well as individual students. This helps to increase transparency between schools and homes and gets parents involved in their child’s schooling, too.

“In Finland, families tend to trust schools and teachers, but globally that’s not always the case,” she points out. “Especially in countries where education is expensive and the institutions differ remarkably in terms of quality, parents want to be sure they are getting their money’s worth and their child is getting the best education available.”

Laitio believes that the fact that the concept has the word ‘Finland’ in it adds to the team’s motivation. Acting like a brand ambassador for the country’s education system makes them really want to do things to the highest possible standard.

“The values of sustainable development, equality, wellbeing and solidarity are something we’re proud to be spreading through FinlandWay. Even if my first email to Dr Kangas was a little naïve, we genuinely want to create better beginnings for children and families around the world.”

Text: Anne Salomäki

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