Five From Finland
Known as an education superpower, Finland encourages lifelong learning in many ways, locally and globally.
Having gone through an exciting development path, the world-renowned Finnish education system now forms the foundation of the country’s prosperity and competitiveness on a global scale. Moreover, Finnish education policy enables different ways to upgrade one’s knowledge and professional competencies. The country is carrying out a parliamentary reform of continuous learning to help people of different ages with their need for upskilling and reskilling.
“Finns have a very high desire to learn. It is an enormous resource for our country,” said Helena Mustikainen, project director of Lifelong learning at Sitra. “After all, the ability to learn is crucial not only for the wellbeing of individuals but also for the development of work communities and Finland’s future success.”
Here are five examples of how Finland is providing people the tools for lifelong learning, many of which available also for curious minds in other European countries and globally.
In late 2019, Finland announced its plan to educate one per cent of EU citizens in the basics of artificial intelligence (AI). The spring of 2020 saw the launch of Elements of AI, a series of free online courses designed by the University of Helsinki and Finnish tech company MinnaLearn, previously known as Reaktor Education.
The series currently includes two courses: Introduction to AI, which is available in all official EU languages and walks participants through the ABCs of artificial intelligence, and Building AI, the English-language follow-up offering ordinary people an opportunity to familiarise themselves with algorithms at the core of AI systems.
Elements of AI is perfectly suited for a time when AI has already become part and parcel of our everyday lives and continues shaping the future of societies.
“Artificial intelligence is visible in our lives as the recommendation algorithms of on-demand services and face-recognition techniques, for example,” explained Teemu Roos, a professor of computer science at the University of Helsinki. “We want to familiarise people with the tools that are used to create artificial intelligence systems. That way people can be part of this societal change instead of simply having to adapt to what the technology elite are doing.”
Finland is doing a lot to attract and retain its international talent. Many foreigners, however, may find integration into Finnish working life somewhat challenging and require additional guidance. Aalto University is giving them a helping hand by offering Finland Works, an open online course designed as a starting point for understanding Finnish working culture and building a career in the country. The course provides insight into working life from societal, organisational and individual perspectives.
“When you’re looking for a job outside your country of origin, it might be unclear what the employer is expecting and wishing from the applicant – beyond the official requirements,” commented course author and lecturer Peter Kenttä. “It’s essential to show international job seekers that there are no secret handshakes or code languages you would need to succeed in landing a job in Finland. The employer’s expectations and wishes are most of the time sensible, regardless of whether you’re working in Finland or any international company. Of course, Finland has some specialities like all other countries, but these are more additional ‘spices’ than hindrances.”
Available in English since September 2021, the Finland Works course saw its launch in the Ukrainian language in August this year, increasing accessibility for Ukrainian students and refugees seeking to know more about career opportunities in Finland and have a fresh start.
Coding for women
Finland has a pressing need for technology talent. The country’s technology industries are projected to need 130 000 new experts during the next 10 years. The issue can be solved by bringing more talents to the field, including by encouraging more women to study technology and supporting them on their way.
The Mimmit koodaa programme offers free workshops and trainings for women with an interest in coding but not necessarily any previous experience in programming or software. The focus is especially on building a peer community, active networking and opening new career paths. The events by Mimmit koodaa are organised on a wide scale in both Finnish and English.
“We unravel the stereotype that you need to be a man to work in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – it is simply not true,” explained programme director Milja Köpsi. “We like to tell the stories of women who changed their lives and careers.”
E-learning is a booming industry worldwide, but most e-learning efforts are currently focused on improving education for 10 per cent of the global population, argues Espoo-based Funzi. The tech company has decided to take a different approach and made it its mission to ensure that learning is accessible to all mobile users in every part of the globe. Funzi offers free or affordable self-study courses designed to develop practical skills covering such important areas as employability, entrepreneurship and sustainability.
“We give everyone with a mobile device access to the skills that they, and our planet, need to thrive in the future,” says founder and president Aape Pohjavirta.
Earlier this year, Fuzi revealed that it has closed a three million-euro funding round for its effort to support lifelong learning by assisting educational institutions to modernise and expand their learning mix through digitalisation and mobile learning. The capital injection has also enabled Funzi to accelerate its growth into new markets.
“Funzi’s recent service launches and projects have validated three things about the market,” Pohjavirta noted. “First, our partnership approach can give us very rapid access to markets. Second, both mobile operators and education systems are showing significant interest in mobile learning services. Finally, and most importantly, our service is loved by our users, and they actually learn with it.”
A frontrunner of digitalisation, Finland ranked first in this year’s Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), the European Commission’s annual evaluation of digital performance and digitalisation progress. The accelerated digitalisation also means that cybersecurity has become a societal need, and Finland is responding to it in a timely manner.
In February, researchers at Aalto University announced they are designing a special educational package on cybersecurity in a three-year project that has been granted five million euros under the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility. Aiming at making cybersecurity a civic skill across the EU, the project will result in the launch of an open website that teaches cybersecurity skills to citizens in all official languages of the 27-country bloc.
“Understanding the basics of information security is increasingly important, and digital literacy in general is a civic skill in today’s digital societies,” stated Jarno Limnéll, professor of practice in cybersecurity at Aalto University.
The importance of the project is hard to overestimate, according to Rauli Paananen, national cybersecurity director at the Ministry of Transport and Communications. “Teaching cybersecurity skills and providing related training and education is a worthwhile investment and an opportunity to make use of novel learning methods,” he said.