Finland’s schools are getting rid of their walls
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Finland’s schools are getting rid of their walls

Finland’s schools are getting rid of their walls

Already known for having among the best schools in the world, Finland has decided to again revolutionise its public education system.

Finnish students have consistently performed among the world’s best in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings in recent years.

Now, the northern European nation is currently undergoing a major overhaul of its schools’ physical environments, with some 57 out of 4800 public schools nationwide being chosen for refurbishment and new construction in late 2017, according to CityLab.

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Kastelli School and Community Centre, Oulu, Finland. Source: Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects

Open-plan environments, without walls to separate classrooms, are being prioritised. Around 100 schools have been built in the open plan model in recent years.

The Heinävaara School in eastern Finland was the first school in the country to have an open plan learning environment in the 1990s, however it caused controversy.

“It opened the discussion in a way, but it also aroused criticism over acoustical problems,” said Reino Tapaninen, Chief Architect at the National Agency for Education as quoted by local news outlet YLE.

For the new wall-less schools, acoustic designers are being employed to work on the layout of each new or refurbished building.

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Kastelli School and Community Centre, Oulu, Finland. Source: Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects

“We are using more acoustic materials on the ceilings, while textile flooring has become more popular—the materials are much better than they used to be, and now far easier to clean,” said Tapaninen, as quoted by CityLab.

“We now have what we call ‘shoe-less schools,’ where pupils either change into softer shoes or simply wear socks when they come indoors.”

Along with this progressive new building are reforms to the curriculum. Students of different ages will be given opportunities to learn together, and teachers will be granted greater autonomy over what they teach. Finland already has no standardised testing.

“Some international newspapers wrote that Finland is giving up subjects,” Finland’s Education minister Sanni Grahn-Laasonen told Education Week last year. “That’s not exactly how it is, but we want to see more cooperation between teachers in different subjects, and more multi-disciplinary learning models.”

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Kastelli School and Community Centre, Oulu, Finland. Source: Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects

“Schools can choose a theme like climate change and you can look at it from very different perspectives, from very different subjects like mathematics. It’s culture—it’s everything … we call it phenomenon-based learning.”

In any case, little Finland has a large influence across the globe. Last September, Vietnam announced its new national curriculum would take strong influence from the Finnish system.

“We want to see our children to take more active roles in learning,” said Grahn-Laasonen. “We want every child to succeed in their studies. Different students learn in different ways.”

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