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Finnish ideas re-shape learning in and out of classrooms

Finnish firms and organisations are re-imagining education.

Pixabay / Pexels

Many Finnish early-childhood educators believe in the power of play and stories. Aalto University, in turn, has leveraged entrepreneurial education to help refugees from Ukraine.

Kide Science in August reported that it has taken its total seed funding to 3.2 million euros with a one million-euro bridge funding round backed by Sparkmind Fund and Finnish Industry Investment (Tesi).

The Helsinki-based developer of activities and lesson plans for 3–8-year-old children said the funding will be used to expand its play and storytelling-based offering beyond the fields of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.

“Our research and feedback from customers shows that a child’s imagination can help learning in more areas than just science,” saidJenni Vartiainen, co-founder of Kide Science. “[T]here’s really compelling evidence that shows hands-on learning through stories and play is effective in all areas: we’ve seen it develop skills in maths, language, social-emotional learning and social studies.”

The new investment will accelerate Kide Science’s growth in the US. Image: Kide Science

The foray into new fields has already started with the development of a range of activities and lesson plans around Dreamworks’ Gabby’s Dollhouse, a popular pre-school series on Netflix.

The funding also enables the startup to pursue new partnerships and explore international home-schooling markets in a bid to accelerate its growth in the US. The startup also plans to hire a product manager and senior user-experience designer to streamline its offering and enhance the user experience.

Kide Science in June beat four other finalists to become the first recipient of the Education Finland Award. The recognition is given to the educational solution assessed to be the best suited for international markets based on criteria including accessibility, impact, innovativeness, scalability, pedagogical and technical quality, and business model and ethical sustainability.

Tuomo Puumala, state secretary at the Ministry of Education and Culture, said the jury believes the startup’s solution has the potential to be an impressive, significant and even world-changing. Puumala served as the chairperson of the six-member jury.

“The solution sparks a desire to learn more. There is a strong pedagogical team in the background,” he commented.

Play is an integral part of the pedagogical approach of many Finnish companies. Image: Michael Morse / Pexels

The startup has recently also announced a partnership with Raising a Reader, an American non-profit organisation helping children to strengthen their ability to learn through daily book-sharing routines. The partnership will enable the startup to enter the lives of over 15 000 parents participating in the annual summer programmes of the non-profit.

Vartiainen described the partnership as part of the pivot the startup is making beyond science in order to become the all-around leading early-childhood education programme.

“Raising a Reader and Kide Science believe that children really can learn anything through investigation, exploration and imagination, and we both have research-backed methods of education,” she said.

Opportunities for Ukrainian refugees

Aalto University in August announced it is launching a Ukrainian edition of Finland Works, an open online course offering information on working life, work culture and career opportunities in Finland.

Aalto Ventures Program, the Espoo-based university’s entrepreneurship education programme, recently launched an online course called Fresh Start UA, seeking to help Ukrainian refugees to alleviate war-related stress and, as the next step, learn basic entrepreneurial skills for starting a new life in Finland.

Audrey Poudrier-Tremblay shared her career experiences in Finland for Finland Works, an online course designed to offer information to foreigners on working life, work culture and career opportunities in Finland. Image: Aalto University

Developed by a team that includes Ukrainian-born entrepreneurs Yuri Kozik and Daria Sazonova, the course comprises three main umbrellas: wellbeing and self-development; introduction to entrepreneurship, the digital economy and the entrepreneurial ecosystem; and core steps in the entrepreneurial process.

“Taking collective European responsibility in offering higher education courses for Ukrainian students is of utmost importance,” statedLaura Sivula, the teacher in charge of Finland Works.

“The Aalto University community has reacted quickly by offering Ukrainian students study rights without fees and scholarships. This is a natural next step to offer our online course materials in the Ukrainian language as well.”

Aalto University accepted 59 Ukrainian students to its degree programmes this autumn.

The university reminded that the migration and mobility of international talent is crucial also from a national perspective, arguing that it is key for fostering competitiveness and wellbeing in Finland. The new courses, it outlined, aim to ease the adjustments required from the side of both employers and employees.

HEI Schools expands in Tennessee

HEI Schools is intent on expanding its reach in Tennessee, according to The Tennessean. The Helsinki-based provider of educational solutions, the daily wrote, is expanding the Spanish immersion programme at its pre-school in Franklin, Tennessee – its first and only in the US – from a half-day to a full-day programme.

The staff are also working on adding a kindergarten by the second half of next year.

Jennifer Santana, liaison at HEI Nashville, told The Tennessean that the idea came from the parents of current learners who said they would like to keep their children in the school beyond pre-school.

A strong sense of Nordic design is a cornerstone of the HEI Schools model. Image: HEI Schools

“[They] told us they’ve looked at other kindergartens but they feel like the child has really embraced this model of learning and that they really want to keep the child [at HEI Franklin], but they’ve aged out,” she told.

HEI Schools states on its webpage that its child-focused, research-based and play and real-life inspired approach to education draws from the national core curriculum. Co-founded by the University of Helsinki, the company has created a curriculum for early-childhood that places emphasis on play, inquiry and project-based learning.

Educational game trialled in Helsinki

There are currently more than 20 000 international students from 150 different countries studying in Finland. Alongside this influx of pupils, Finland is also bringing in educational ideas from abroad.

Sam Corporation, a South Korean developer of educational technology, recently completed a trial of an educational game called Story Creation in Helsinki. Enabling users to create their own stories by combining images, music, speech and writing, the game was used as part of everyday teaching by teachers at Kulosaari Primary School.

The pupils were later able to test the associated app and provide feedback and development suggestions on it together with their teachers.

“We were able to collaborate with several groups of pupils and teachers, and evaluate the content, usability and functionality of the product. We received valuable feedback for further development,” remarked Bang Lee, co-founder and director at Sam Corporation.

The trial was carried out on using the early-access co-development method on Testbed Helsinki. It also included for the first time ever so-called hub lessons – workshops in which pupil groups can participate one to three times.

“The workshops will be supervised by a company representative, and we will help and support the implementation of the workshop,” said Marjo Kenttälä, innovation agent at Helsinki Education Hub.

Digital learning grows

The Finnish National Agency for Education (OPH) in June reported that the value of education exports continued to grow in 2021. Education Finland, a programme set up under the agency, saw the combined revenue of its member companies and organisations rise by 29 per cent year-on-year to 647 million euros.

While the member survey showed that the coronavirus pandemic continued to hinder business operations, the majority of the members managed to accelerate their growth in the past year – an indication of growing interest in Finnish educational expertise and solutions, according to Education Finland.

“The effects of the coronavirus pandemic on educational export activities were overcome quicker than expected,” said Jouni Kangasniemi, director of Education Finland.

“A major digital leap was simultaneously made worldwide, making possible entirely new educational and expertise-based business models. There is demand currently particularly for teacher training, digital solutions and work-related training.”

Members of Education Finland represent virtual the entire range of educational exports, from early-childhood education to higher education and supplementary training. A national roadmap published by the programme sets forth the objective of raising the value of educational exports to one billion euros by 2030.

By: Aleksi Teivainen