Whāia e koe te iti kahurangi: ki te tūohu koe, me he maunga teitei
Seek the treasure you value most dearly: if you bow your head, let it be to a lofty mountain
I have said farewell to the land and people I love in Aotearoa New Zealand to seek the most valuable treasure of education in Oulu, northern Finland. There are no mountains here, but there will be many challenges. I hope that I am able to work through them and share this journey with you.
I moved to Finland in August to study a two year master’s programme in Education and Globalisation at the University of Oulu in northern Ostrobothnia. I’m the first New Zealander to do the EdGlo course, and as far as I can tell I’m the only Kiwi at the University and maybe even in the city! I’m excited to be a student again after being a teacher, especially to study education in a country that values it so highly and delivers it so successfully. It’s a dream to have the dedicated time to read, think, discuss, research and write about such a fascinating and important subject in this supportive and stimulating learning environment.
From Auckland to Oulu
I first learned about the EdGlo master’s from an ad that my Ma found in theGuardian as I was beginning of my teacher training in early 2008. I was so excited by the course outline and its harmony with my interests in teaching, political studies, societies in transition and equity through education. I was only 21 however, and wanted to learn how to teach, gain some experience in my career and life, perhaps travel to Finland before moving all the way over there and ready myself for the commitment necessary to undertake the programme.
To that end I completed my training in social sciences secondary education, taught for four and a half years at an independent school and also briefly at a state school, travelled for a year and visited Finland, ran for Parliament as education spokesperson for the Internet Party in 2014 and then coordinated Amnesty International New Zealand’s incredible youth activism network across more than 100 schools. As part of my role as the Youth Coordinator at Amnesty NZ I also developed AmnesTeach, a free and comprehensive Human Rights Education programme for levels 4-5 of the social sciences learning area of the New Zealand Curriculum. At the end of 2015 I was preparing for an exit interview with my intern by reflecting on what I wanted to do with my life at her age, and thought again about my dream to study education and globalisation in Finland. I looked up the course and discovered that applications opened three days later. And so here I am.
Finland’s education system is a hot topic among international education circles and the media for a number of reasons that stand it apart from other countries’ approaches to teaching and learning. Most notable perhaps is its inclusive nature and emphasis on social equity, its lack of standardised testing and the value that Finnish society places on education and those who provide it.
My greatest attraction to Finland’s world-leading public school system is that it holds equality of access to education and the promotion of an equitable society at its core. The Finnish Ministry of Education also entrusts teachers with the responsibility to determine what is best for their own students. The current NZ government’s lack of faith in teachers’ professional judgement and care for their students is a common feature in many challenges facing our education system back home. Rather than going into too much detail here, you can read my brief introduction to the Finnish education system in this initial post and others in the future as I learn more through seminars, readings, interviews and school visits.
Hopes and aims
Learning first-hand about the Finnish education system and considering how to apply similar principles and practices to New Zealand is just one of my aims in undertaking this programme. Although I’ve had rich and varied experiences in my career, I’ve never really felt like I had enough solid grounding or expertise in anything I’ve done and have kind of just blustered my way through. Perhaps this is just a product of ye olde imposter syndrome. Of course I have learned and achieved a great deal more than I probably give myself credit for, but I hope that these two years will give me the research, analytical, thinking and communication skills I have been lacking.
I am only a couple of weeks into the course and have loved every lecture and discussion so far. We are currently studying everything from the Finnish culture and education systems, Nordic education and welfare states to current issues in globalisation, trends in education research and methodology, ethics in education and more… We have 10 core classes this semester which is pretty full on but each of them is thought provoking and inspiring.
I’m especially excited about learning from my classmates’ experiences and ideas over the next two years. There are 20 of us in this intake from all corners of the world (Iraqi Kurdistan, Australia, Kenya, New Zealand, the USA, India, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Canada, UK, China, Indonesia, South Korea, Italy, Iran, Taiwan, Germany, Ghana and Finland), and we each bring with us a range of experiences and ideas. We have come together in Finland to share what we already know, learn as much as we can and find new ways forward in education. Discussions inside and outside of our classrooms are infinitely interesting, and I think we all really appreciate how our course coordinator and lecturers strive to facilitate our sessions towards purposeful learning, stimulating discussion, respectful debate, collegiality and friendship.
One of the many challenges I’ve already identified is the need to acknowledge, and when necessary place aside, my assumptions that have developed from my experience and values. I want to go into this as open as possible, and that will require some serious reflection and processing. While I am in a state of perpetual wonder and curiosity in class, sometimes I will be confronted with questions that will make me feel deeply uncomfortable, which in itself is a glorious thing. The volume and depth of work ahead is hugely intimidating and I worry that I somehow got into this course by mistake, but I am confident in the support I will receive from the faculty and my classmates to get through. Uni aside, the landscape and climate here is so different from home, and I’m nervous about the long, dark and freezing winter approaching. It’s very difficult to be so far from my whenua and whanau, but the bonds we are forming here in Oulu are already strong and I look forward to showing my new friends around Aotearoa when I return home.
Why I’m writing about it
I have created this blog because like the Finns, I believe that education should be easily accessible to everyone. The privilege I have been given with this opportunity should be shared. As a teacher I encouraged persistence, questioning and self-reflection from my students, but I know that these are habits I need to practise and model more myself as a learner.
So here goes. I will do my best to share my journey of exploration and learning with you as much as possible here. Posts will no doubt vary in length and coherence, subject matter and purpose. Sometimes I will write about discussions in class, readings and lectures, observations of school visits and research questions. Other posts will be more personal thoughts and stories about the process of transition from the bottom of the world to the top.
Please feel free to take what suits you and leave what doesn’t, comment on posts and ask any questions which I’ll endeavour to answer.
Kiitos ja hauska tutustua!