The world learns the Finnish way with EduCluster
Fuelled by widespread praise for the Finnish educational model, this company is helping to improve learning on a global scale.
David Marsh pauses for a moment and casts his mind back three decades. It was then that Finland began building the foundations of what has become the world’s leading educational approach.
“Finland learnt from the world,” he recalls. “It went out and looked for solutions that might fit this country, brought them back and sewed them together in a certain way.”
So successful was the country in constructing this quilt of knowledge, these days the flow of information is now reversed. At the forefront of this pioneering movement is EduCluster, a Jyväskylä-based company tailoring educational transformation solutions to its growing international clientele.
“We are very conscious that there is no blueprint for education export aboard,” Marsh continues. “But there are problems out there and we try to weave solutions.”
A prominent member of the EduCluster team since its inception in 2010, Marsh draws on his 30 years’ experience in developing Finnish education as the company’s director of innovation and outreach.
“Early learning and vocational education are definitely priorities for us,” Marsh states. “The world wants to know how you change kindergarten teachers from carers to educators, and how to change vocational education into something respected and high quality.”
Other areas of expertise for EduCluster include language education, change management and leadership management.
“How to take something as bulky and slow moving as education and how you can make change happen – this is what we now specialise in,” Marsh summarises.
Given the current wave of global enthusiasm for Finnish education, similar companies have been popping up like metaphorical mushrooms in the forest. Marsh is undeterred.
“The major difference between EduCluster and other organisations is that we are staffed by experts in education,” Marsh underlines. “These are the people who make the proposals and create solutions.”
Indeed. The company is owned by three prominent entities, which together span a wide breadth of learning: the University of Jyväskylä, JAMK University of Applied Sciences and the Jyväskylä Educational Consortium.
EduCluster’s staff of 80 professionals are strategically located in Finland, China, Qatar and Abu Dhabi. The Middle East is a region of considerable growth for the company, alongside Mexico, Chile and Vietnam. The company continues to break ground in new markets, with Kazakhstan an example of the fertile soil being cultivated in recent times.
Much of the demand for the company’s expertise can be attributed to the emerging middle classes of developing nations that have grown disillusioned with their public systems.
“Public education systems are very slow moving creatures in many parts of the world,” Marsh underlines. “Money is not put into them, teachers are poorly paid and often not given a lot of respect. Very often they are political footballs.”
The last decade has seen parents realising that “look, it doesn’t have to be this way. What we are good at here at EduCluster is putting something in the system that is a catalyst for rapid change.”
Alongside meeting the needs of the rising middle class, Marsh also points to wider issues that the company has a hand in abating. These include everything from reducing dropout, which can be more than 30 per cent in some countries; boosting social equity and inclusion in the public sector; building young people’s inner self-confidence and ‘hunger to learn’; all the while demonstrating that ‘working together works’.
Regardless of the challenges presented by each project, EduCluster’s goals remain transparent. In a crowded marketplace where the mere mention of Finnish education is catnip to prospective customers, Marsh emphasises the depth of substance beneath the company’s surface.
“Our strength is not to ride waves of illusion, but show what is under the waves if you want to swim effectively and well,” Marsh says. “The pleasure of this work is approaching real life challenges not just from a commercial point-of-view, but also with an ethos of trying to do the right thing in the best way.”
With revenue of 7.5 million euros last year, the globe is certainly responding to EduCluster’s inclusive Finnish approach, one which is continuing to build the foundations for future generations.
“Kids entering school these days are going to retire at around 2080, so we’ve got to be giving them the competences for the next 50 years,” Marsh underlines. “That sense [of duty] is very powerful, and that’s what the world wants to grab.”
Text: James O’Sullivan