Thursday, 18 December 2008

More thoughts on visit to SGSS

A few very clever students were honest and sweet. Amongst many others, the favourite opening line of some presentations was 'I love your blog' and 'your blog is very meaningful' - which can't be more sincere - followed by a stark, powerful remark that 'your blog is boring' (with some helpful and constructive suggestions for improvement). I tried to humour them a bit and it was a lot of fun talking to them. Sorry if it is boring, i'm really very bad at cracking gags and promoting something - advertising is the one job i can never do i think.

Many of them actually engaged in the substantive issues esp cookery lessons, English education, art classes, student counselling, etc - but surprisingly nobody talked about equality which I think is the SINGULARLY MOST VALUABLE part of Finnish education. It is entirely due to the neglect and sloppiness in my organisation and presentation of the blog and only natural how they ended up getting attracted to the ones with more pictures.

I was surprised how much attention they showed to details in my blog - what an amazing ability to be able to pick up everything and describe it all accurately. It was very clear they had had a good read - thank you.

I was even more surprised when a good few of them had questions for me AND expressed their opinions about what they had read on my blog as well as their own education. I really hope this will help them to think about what kind of education they want for themselves, and GO FOR WHATEVER THEY WANT TO ACHIEVE :)

Some thoughts after a visit to my beloved SGSS

So I stepped foot in my alma mater again and this time I had some really interesting interaction with students from 2B, 4D and 5D. Firstly thank you Kristina for giving me the opportunity to come back and share, on top of your support and insight all along. I came with an 'official' purpose to respond to feedback on my blog and a secret informal twofold motivation of inspiring some of my juniors in my limited capacity and seeking a personal answer that might better inform my own future.

(Yes perhaps contrary to what the students might have thought, my real aim was not to talk about finnish education at all - rather i wanted to get everyone to think about what kind of education they would like as students - and that the defects in the system can to a large extent be remedied by putting in more effort themselves and knowing where they are heading towards.)

And I left SGSS feeling impressed by the promise I saw in many students I met. As much as I am naive at heart, I wish to draw on the wisdom from naruto manga how responsibility should be entrusted to the young generations - with full trust in their ability to surpass the previous generations. I certainly feel that many of them are capable of surpassing their predecessors if they apply themselves to it.

I also saw a lot of life in the young faces - they remind me of the many different stages i have been through, and how my attitudes and beliefs have changed over time. (though my look has remained as young and annoyingly immature as ever). I long for that carefree spirit, the determination and the goal I once had.

Boys and girls, I walked out realising I had learnt a lot from talking to you. I got many interesting and sincere presentations and questions from you. I genuinely appreciate all the effort that everyone has put in and thank you all for bearing with me. And your feedback has been stimulating - I seriously struggled to answer. Quite a number of you really led me to explore further and articulate my ideas much better. Thank you :)

Monday, 15 December 2008

Lakes in Finland

isn't it amazing to capture the two birds perched parallel to each other.

nice little fountain jet little flowery greeting thing which accentuated the lake just right - unlike some massive jet in G that distorts the view lol.

This is a pic i took on the night of Mid-autmn festival (+ or - one). The time for reunion, you know, and i was away. So a bit of homesickness there, and it didnt help to see a sweet sweet couple.

I just love lakes. They are purifying. Just a breeze blows away my troubles and sorrows.

In the moment

I was captivated when this woman stood there watching the lake for what must have been at least 10 minutes. That seemed to represent something about the Finns. While everyone was jogging, cycling, walking quite briskly by, she stood there alone absorbed in her world, in the moment.

She reminded me of the old lady's daughter (lunatic) walking back and forth in the lobby 50 times before she would leave the entrance. They gave a very pungent smell of urine, so it was quite a nuisance. At first i only thought they were really sad and this old mother had to look after a daughter who had gone insane for some reason. And gradually I began to realise that I was not very different in many ways - how my life goes in circles and i never seem to move on.

Art and design in Finland

Just random snapshots of what I have seen for myself. Helsinki is a growing capital of design with a very high density of design boutiques and art galleries in a tiny place.

See for yourself how dense it all is in the map.

Chinese art gallery run by Ms. Teng Yue (Link to be attached later)

There's creativity everywhere.

There are loads of galleries:

This is really the foundation of the development of the arts and culture.

Build a strong foundation AND build on that strong foundation - English language education

Another key to the success of the Finnish system is its primary education I think. The primary system there focuses on inspiring students to develop curiosity and interest in learning different subjects and getting everyone up to speed. With an inquiring mind, students are likely to go further into their interested areas and welcome more inspiration. Otherwise weaker students can easily get frustrated because they go through a poor primary education and start secondary school realising how little they know.

From my personal experience, that marks the key turning point for many students' academic paths. Some people used to tone it down by saying that would be one other transition - for those people who don't make it, they just start to fall behind, further and further.

In Hong Kong, one crucial determinant is English ability, for the EMI schools (which use English as the medium of instruction). Students who have a weak foundation in English usually struggle to catch up, and ultimately give up because all efforts prove futile and they cannot see any light at the end of the tunnel. It is a massive barrier to learning when students are stuck in a world with a mysterious code that they can't decipher.

And many schools simply fail to acknowledge or take enough action to rectify this very simple but far-reaching truth. If the primary education and lower secondary education do not change with a view to helping students bridge the gap, they will continue to lose a whole bunch of students. I remembered feeling very lucky when I was in S1 because my English foundation was relatively better compared to my peers, and that was such a huge advantage. There were things I didn't understand then, but now when i come to think of it, so many students get let down SIMPLY because of this poorly coordinated language policy.

Yes - i blame it on the poor coordination of the language policy, not the language policy itself. I dont see anything inherently wrong about EMI education if it's well implemented. But if it is implemented in such a way that is detached from the reality - in the absence of an English environment and additional support for students, it is a tall order to expect all students to adapt effectively.

As the saying goes, well begun is half done. But poorly begun means the game is half lost. We're losing many students totally because they don't manage to improve their English in time.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Putting equality in perspective

As I read about and saw for myself how the Finnish education and society really put equality into practice, I couldn't help instinctively buying into this realisation of an ideal view to human nature. Yet I also tried to take a questioning approach and to 'put it in perspective' though I haven’t quite formed a conclusion myself. I try to put the following questions to you.

1. What is equality?

I have been told by Mr Laukanen that equality means two things: equal opportunities and fairness. It is this attitude towards equality that leads to the willingness of the State and its people to devote so much resources to education and to creating an equal platform for everyone.

Is it a value, an ideology, a conviction, a belief, an attitude, a policy, a practice as a matter of fact, or even a truth? For me it seems to be a state of mind that pervades the Finnish mentality and society (and perhaps much of the Nordic countries as well).

On a very broad level, equality is an acknowledgement of respect for human beings for the simple fact that we are all human beings – we all deserve the same treatment. It is to go beyond the differences to see the ultimate common identity. There is some inherent difficulty in considering this question – in some way we are just discounting some differences as irrelevant.

In the context of education, I think it means a firm belief that every child is ‘teachable’ and can be a good student if given sufficient attention.

While this may sound a bit abstract, let’s try to translate the concept in more concrete terms. Equality with respect to what? Gender, disability, ethnicity, nationality, class, birth, language? A different way of asking the question is what is a legitimate basis for ‘discriminating’ between people? What is a relevant difference that justifies differential treatment?

In general we frown upon discrimination on the basis of sex, disability, ethnicity, class or birth – those aren’t relevance to the right of a child to receive education. But there are two more interesting criteria which are worth considering.

The first criterion is ability; should students with higher IQ or learning ability be given more resources ie ‘better’ education? The second criterion is nationality; should children of foreign nationality be entitled to receive free education?

2. Why equality? Why not elitism? Equality to what extent?

This blends in with the first question and questions the fundamental rationale behind it. Is equality an absolute goal? What is it that only equality can achieve? What are the circumstances where equality should be overridden by other more important objectives?

Emphasis on equality has its own drawbacks – a most salient one being the neglect over the more gifted students. When teaching time and resources are spent on lifting up the weaker students, the smarter ones are scarcely pushed and therefore not fulfilling their potential. So in some sense equality is a policy in favour of the weaker, and not entirely equally kind and effective for the more able students (in other words, there is no complete equality, and it is really a question of choice).

Countries like the UK, the US, Korea, Japan, China (including my beloved city Hong Kong) have opted for a more competitive environment that fosters elitism. The most extreme example may well be Singapore where there is a very scary streaming system that happens as early as 6 or 7 years – best students get the best teachers and resources. The fittest survive, and everyone tries to be the winner in the race. This competitive environment is more likely to fulfil the full potential of students in the sense that the best compare themselves with the people on the same caliber. And therefore many parents love public schools, Oxbridge and ivy league universities.

In Scandinavian countries, they emphasise the goal of learning is self-improvement, and it doesn’t matter who runs faster. The weaker students don’t suffer a sense of failure as easily as others in a competitive environment. More students are lifted up to a higher standard, which gives Finland a higher average standard of performance. But the brightest kids are a bit bored.

One argument I have heard before is that countries need a group of highly capable people to run the country, and that can only be nurtured through elitism by giving the right amount of resources to the right people. While we may give up a portion of the student population who do not succeed academically – for example, more than 20,000 students out of 100,000 fail all subjects in HKCEE, the upside is we get really high-skilled all-rounded labour who is each worth two persons.

The counter-argument in favour of equality is that by spending more resources on enhancing the ability of the weaker students, society actually saves by preventing a lot of social problems that can potentially arise from an enormous group of people with little or no productivity who are likely to be harbour grievances as they feel stuck in desperation. While it is true they spend a lot of money on educating everyone to a high average standard, they in turn create a generally more productive force which is less likely to pose long term social problems.

To some extent, it is a question of striking a balance between ensuring that everyone gets equal opportunities to fulfil their potential and promoting excellence in the achievement of the more gifted students—that is, if it is possible to have the cake and eat it too. Is elitism mutually exclusive with equality?

3. Is equality practicable in Hong Kong or other parts of the world?

Is society ready? Would parents complain about too slow a syllabus when their children are brighter?

Can the average standard really be raised with a mixing of the best and poorest students? Or would it be the case that the best students become adversely influenced and uninterested in studying as a result?

Are there enough resources for looking after everyone?

Does the massive population of Hong Kong mean that it can readily sacrifice a good number without compromising the future of its people? That is - is equality really necessary?

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Policy of equality

'A central objective of Finnish education policy is to provide all citizens with equal opportunities to receive education, irrespective of their age, domicile, financial situation, sex or native language.'

This is reflected in many ways:
1. Education from pre-primary to upper secondary levels is provided free of charge. For basic eduaction, travel to and from school and school books are free. And a healthy free school lunch (though kids tend to complain about it!)

2. The education standard is fairly uniform throughout Finland - with a less than 5% deviation in the average performance of schools. State or publicly funded schools (which account for 98%) are at least just as good as, if not better than, private schools. That means kids don't have to pay their way in for a GOOD education.

3. The fundamental belief underlying equality is that different children are simply 'different' - there is nothing amazing about high achieving students or it's no shame to learn a bit more slowly. It is only a difference in the learning ability of a student, and that should not change the fact that the child should get adequate education opportunities to develop themselves. I was really impressed when many teachers in Finnish schools share with me their philosophy, which is surprisingly consistent. They don't have a sense of hierarchy between different students, or practise favouritism! The goal of education is simply to help each child to improve. That actually reflects many ancient chinese philosophies 因材施教,有教無類 We hear these terms being bandied about from time to time, but Finnish education REALLY puts it into practice by, for example, devoting more resources to special education classes, giving more resources to children of ethnic minorities to take free extra language classes to keep and develop their native tongue.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Insights from the development history of the Finnish education system: Sharing by Mr Reijo Laukanen

I was incredibly grateful to be able to interview one of the leading figures in the Finnish education reforms over the last thirty years - Mr. Reijo Laukanen, from the Finnish National Board of Education.

I think history tells us how an education system has improved so significantly in 30 years' time, and what contributed to this. I chose Finland as my investigation area partly because Hong Kong also underwent radical reforms for a similar period of time, but the results are starkly different - we are left with a fragmented, unstable system. I wonder what has gone wrong - was it the direction, the implementation method, attitude or everything?

To a certain extent, it all stemmed from a political demand by society – society demanded a better education for their future generations. In 1968, there was a student revolution that led to protests and demonstrations for a right to a better education. It was key to the successful reforms that society was willing to embrace and support a better education system which would involve certain sacrifice. Imagine Hong Kong government raising the tax and claiming that is necessary for a better education system. Finns are happy to pay the tax because they believe in education and see the effective use of such resources.

The Board also appreciated the need to gather support from the ‘soul’ of the system –teachers. Although they radically changed the curriculum and raised the qualification requirement of all primary and secondary teachers to masters level, they retained all the teachers and helped them to meet the requirement in a gradual, realistic way through the span of a decade and different transition phases of change. They provided teachers with in-service training to help them adapt to the new mode of teaching.

More importantly, he showed great respect for teachers and appreciated the need to address teachers’ concerns openly and honestly. I’d say it was this fundamental attitude of recognition and respect that made the reforms possible. Because of this belief, they considered their proposal thoroughly before any rash action – with adequate research of overseas models and consultation of community and education sector, done on a long term consistent basis – they acknowledged the need to hear what others thought and cater the reforms for the needs of the education community.

Another interesting feature is the foresight and long-term consistency in the education policy over these decades. Finnish taxpayers and government have consistently contributed 6.5% of the GDP to education so that the standard of free education can be raised and maintained. This comes with the widely shared belief among different political parties and sectors of society in equality and the importance of education – and this is carried through the civil service which makes the policy reforms.

Education can affect generations of young people in their most vulnerable times. It cannot keep changing and shifting between different policies. I really don’t understand what the HK government is thinking by antagonising teachers and this ridiculous language policy.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Reluctance, by Robert Frost

This poem is fantastic - it will probably capture my feeling when I leave oxford. These days various conversations have set me thinking, and a few lines have hit me quite hard. I guess I only need a bit more courage.


Out through the fields and the woods

And over the walls I have wended;

I have climbed the hills of view

And looked at the world, and descended;

I have come by the highway home,

And lo, it is ended.

The leaves are all dead on the ground,

Save those that the oak is keeping

To ravel them one by one

And let them go scraping and creeping

Out over the crusted snow,

When others are sleeping.

And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,

No longer blown hither and thither;

The last lone aster is gone;

The flowers of the witch hazel wither;

The heart is still aching to seek,

But the feet question "Whither?"

Ah, when to the heart of man

Was it ever less than a treason

To go with the drift of things,

To yield with a grace to reason,

And bow and accept the end

Of a love or a season?

Robert Frost

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Rant about nothing 1

Over the past few weeks, I've been thinking of setting up an anonymous blog called 'Rant'. But I might as well write them here so people can commiserate, pity or despise me. This is the sixth sunday when i feel like a Perpetual Laggard - four seminars this week + a tutorial. And I still haven't done the minimum reading for one of the seminars. I have another journal to read through, a problem to do, three chapters to read + many more cases i'm supposed to have gone through and understood. Tomorrow I'll just find out how I'm the only one who's struggling (yes ironically when I'm supposed to be the one who shouldn't be.)

It feels really annoying that I'm lagging behind and more worryingly i'm getting used to it. I just go through the motions of reading, and the past five weeks i don't feel that i've been learning much. It's sad but the past few weeks seminars haven't been very inspiring at all, and my mind still lays dormant. In competition law language, my tiny brain is having a 'quiet life', and there's little innovation capacity and motivation. (I don't mean i'm a monopolist, but i've excluded myself from the competitive world here.) I suppose i came back to want to learn something, and I thought I was ready again. Apparently I'm clearly not 'up to speed', and to say the least not really tuned in at all. My attitude so far has actually been despicable. It also felt really bad that i'm back at square one. I'm supposed to have gone through so much essay training, but my first tutorial showed how much of an idiot I remain, and my English is still so crap. why, why have i bothered to come on this path to a world I struggle so hard to survive in? this is such an amazing opportunity, but amazing for what?

Oh so much for my breakthroughs that were so well intended. I wanted to do something different in my last year, but I can't believe I'm not finding my feet at all. Things are so detached, yet familiar. I'm completely not in control of my life. It's like a hot balloon that has run out of gas and is being taken wherever by the currents of the wind (and the clouds, stars, moon, and the intimidating sun aren't exactly in a position to do anything about it). I know i'm sounding really weird.

But I know things will get better. I'll manage somehow. I don't really want to be a loser and waste all these wonderful opportunities around me. I know I am interested. It's only a matter of sitting down and doing it. Like this blog, I've been meaning to write more and more, but i've been putting it off for far too long. There's so much I meant to put up here. But having so much to rush for and the deadlines to meet doesn't quite help. i know please don't point out the truth that i'm just completely escaping from reality and procrastinating without end.

I'd like to thank though, the many amazing angels around me who have been lifting me up every now and then - the wind beneath my flagging disappearing wings.

There was one amazing coincidence this friday. It was a most romantic kind of setting, when I was about to get off the coach with a rather weary body (after a fantastic, yet brief visit to london for Annabel's bday party), I saw one of my best friends in oxford M sitting there. It was like OH MY GOD, and I felt like crying. Unnecessarily sentimental i know, but u know, people cross paths with each other and don't realise until the point of farewell that they've been together in some way. So close, yet so intangible.

I must wake up and get on with it. must i?

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Student counselling classes and meetings: Helping students find their way

There is a curious subject called Student Counselling in Finnish core curriculum. There are two Student Counsellors in every upper comprehensive school (Grades 7 to 9). What student counselling involves is to get students to start thinking about their future under certain guidance. In 7th grade, they learn how to learn. In 8th and 9th grades, they start considering their options for future. All ninth graders, and in some schools eighth graders also, obtain 2 weeks of work experience in some corporation, with a bit of help from schools. (I was told the community is generally very happy to cooperate in offering some unpaid internship opportunities). Each 9th grader gets to have a chat individually with the Student Counsellor and discuss his/her future path seriously.

The reason why that decision matters in Finland is after 9th grade, students split into two streams: high school VS technical school (roughly half half by statistics). High school is the general grammar stream, while technical school includes art, sports, design, hairdressing (and even plumbing I heard) etc. It's a lot harder to get into high school because they require stronger academic qualifications. But it is done on an absolute rather than competitive basis: in theory if you have demonstrated to be academically competent to handle high school and you want to do it, you will get a place. If you aren't ready yet, you can repeat a year and apply for high school again. In general only high school students can go to university.

So in many ways this is a much bigger decision than the S4 'stream division' I had to make.

This reminds me of how I made my decision to take science stream rather than arts stream in Grade 9 (ages ago). I made that choice without much thinking, but essentially for a few reasons: 1. science stream offered much wider choices in society and university subject choices; 2. the science classes were a lot better taught in my school; 3. Science subjects took less effort than arts subjects and i was quite lazy.

To a certain extent I regret that decision. While I think I only managed to come so far because I had taken science and got the grades, I would have liked arts subjects a lot more in retrospect.

The point I'm trying to make is that when young people make critical decisions in life, they rarely have the complete picture. It helps a lot to have someone go through the options and help them to make an 'informed' choice as far as possible.

On a more macroscopic level, this is essential to an efficient allocation of resources. Students are better informed about what they have to do in order to achieve their dreams. For example, if they want to be a designer, they need to take certain subjects in schools, that kind of thing. Opportunities are meaningless if they are not known and cannot be taken up by the 'right' people.

Having individual professional advice for everybody makes it more likely for students to know how to get to their desired paths of life.

I see this as a key aspect of the ability of Finnish education system to channel people into the right fields for them in society.

Self-respect: some food for thought...

I had a short chat with a teacher from Moision School at the train station before heading back to Helsinki. I shared with him my frustration with the education system in Hong Kong, and how teachers don't get the same respect as in Finland. He asked me this question: 'do the teachers respect themselves in HK?'

I gather he didn't mean to make a massive criticism about teachers on no basis. I myself can testify to the significant number of very decent and respectable teachers in HK. But his remark seems to suggest all the teachers in Finland in his opinion 'really respect their job as teachers' - it's quite something to say. He raised that question in a disinterested way and wasn't trying to boast about anything. This nonetheless touches on one of the critical reasons for the success of Finnish education system - good, responsible teachers.

All teachers of primary and secondary schools in Finland are master degree holders. Also teaching is one of the professions which is most competitive - only one in ten gets to be selected into teacher training schools. From my limited experience, I could see that a lot of them were definitely 'cream' of their society. They were qualified and interested in teaching and learning.

English teaching at Moision

English (grade 8) Esko Saarinen (a very bright class I was told)
Esko has done a lot to put the language into context I thought - you will see a lot of photos of different aspects relating to English culture or English speaking countries. They were stuck up all over the classroom.

An interesting thing was he played the radio in the background when students checked their work – he did not like silence. This also helped to immerse students in an English environment.

Esko's teaching approach is to teach the essential and leave the extension for the gifted to explore themselves more deeply. Students started with translation of Finnish into English, and teacher reads out the answers to the questions.

some quotes from him: ‘I don’t know if they like doing it, but that makes my life easier.’ ( I think he was being quite straightforward. This is referring to checking answers in class. It might intuitively sound boring, but if answers are checked together efficiently face to face, that can also be a quick learning process. It also saves the teacher a lot of time, which means they can spend more time on preparing lessons well. This of course works well only in environments where students are cooperative.

‘hurry up.’ (that gives me a strong impression of efficiency in finnish way of life, in eating, in checking their work, they seem to get so much done in an hour)

‘no problem.’

Esko reads aloud a passage in English, and the students read after him. then they started reading together with Esko. Esko reinforced their learning of the text by asking them to translate the finnish version of the text in short sentences into English, and playing with the text by substituting some words with others.

They also had a listening exercise of guessing the accent of the English speakers – this gives them more awareness about the world, eg Jamaica, India, new Zealand, Australian, American etc. I was amazed most of them could distinguish these different accents.

Leaving no one behind: special education and core education

The success of the Finnish system is its focus on basic education and its attention to students with learning difficulties, according to many. I talked to a science and maths teacher, who believes that the key is to teach the core, essential curriculum well, and ensure that all students attain a minimum standard. For the more interested and capable students, they can explore the materials themselves on the basis of a strong foundation.

Another aspect is the special classes for helping students with learning difficulties. They are put in a smaller group, and on average, the ratio of teacher to students is about one to five.

But special help does not mean answers are fed to students. In fact, a substantially similar teaching method was applied in regard to the weaker students in the sense that they are still required to try their best to deal with the questions and materials on their own. They try, and they get to check the answers. The difference is the teacher devotes more time and individual attention to each student, but that does not mean spoonfeeding or explaining everything to the student. For certain students, if necessary, they use special materials designed to lower the level of difficulty and impart the absolute minimum of knowledge.

Art class at Moision - professional painter teacher

Art class (Jarmo Lepistö)

The art students of the school are a lucky group to have a professional painter teach them! Jarmo works away in France and Germany from time to time and hold exhibitions abroad. He must be a great role model for students to look up to - a teacher with his own hobbies and interests to pursue in life. It's a pity I haven't been able to see more of the way he teaches other than the basic instruction of theories and methods about graphics.

I could see that he first taught the theories, and then told them several possible methods, and showed them model products that previous students have made. He also demonstrated the technique on the blackboard very roughly by sketching the drawing.

It reminded me of ex-libris, which is what I once did for my secondary school art classes.

Jarmo has his own website where you can admire his paintings.

Music lesson at Moision Koulu: steel band shows

Music class (Annika Viitanen, Grade 8)

Students were making posters about their own computer music products. They had worksheets for computer music which were guidelines for them for an entire year. Basically they all sat down to do their own work, and asked the teacher when necessary. (A bit quiet for a music class I thought, but this confirms the emphasis on independent learning.)

In grade 7, music is compulsory, and students learn about rock and roll history, guitar, bass, drum, singing, and a bit of music theory. From Grade 8 onwards, music is optional.

This school has a special music oriented scheme which continues the music training for students who mostly have begun their special music scheme since grade 3, and this scheme itself will be followed up on by high schools. Students learn about music history, singing, classical music, jazz, etc.

This is only possible because the municipal government and local community give a lot of resources. The equipment for computer music production (the keyboard and computer equipment) is very costly.

The school has quite a lot of music-related activities: choir training, 10 gigs and concerts every year. Music projects are common for other subjects too eg theatre.

They have also started a steel band, and I had a chance to see their steel band show. (they had only had 4 hours of group practice together, and started learning it two weeks ago – very impressive). It is not a difficult kind of instrument apparently, and Annikka has marked the notes on the drums so students can get the hang of it more quickly.

(unfortunately the video is not working at the moment because of technical problems...)

I asked the teacher whether she valued the inspiration of interest more than the honing of skills in musical instruments. She said this was a personal choice for the teachers, and she personally tries to strike a balance between the two. There is not much individual music instruction in the school because teachers don’t have much time, but when teaching in group, the teacher cares a lot about the holistic cooperation between the group and learning together on the same level.

Their philosophy is to give students enough time to develop their interests and skills in their instruments – rather than churning out young prodigies in music.

(Reflection: This is good for the kids who can’t stand a competitive training, and reveals their policy of equality rather than elitism. For the more able and interested students, they can generally thrive if there are opportunities to go a bit further. Finland has a significant number of music institutes for additional training for such students.)

Annikka herself is a substitute teacher for a year because the school music teacher is on maternal leave for a whole year. Annikka is a cellist and she has an interest beyond music in law and politics. I asked her how she ended up with music. She said the decision was straightforward for her when she first started playing the cello – she told her mother after the first lesson that she wanted to be a cellist. Things got slightly more complicated after she has started Turku Academy training, and she is considering some other options as well. Maybe further studies in law and politics. Money is one consideration.