Ylojarvi Secondary is a relatively new secondary school, only five years old. And you can certainly tell. Everything is clean and modern. The preservice teacher who accompanied us explained in a side conversation that there is a big rebuilding campaign going on in the country due to the poor air quality of most of the existing schools. She seemed to imply that this would be the standard for most schools going forward.
It does not look like a high school but rather like a building from a community college. Which is probably not a poor comparison. Students choose to go to secondary school (still free). They can also choose between a general academic program or a vocational program. Both are housed in this school, which has not been the norm. However, our teacher guide Sanna Leinonen explained that they have been trying to do some cross curricular programs between the two programs. Either program allows students to choose to go to either the standard University or the Polytechnic. All students must take the national Matriculation exam. These exams are given much like our AP tests: all subjects tested on the same date and time across the nation. Students choose which subjects they will test in from a menu of options. They also decided when they will test--fall or spring. This is the only required test in all of Finland.
Typically it takes 3 years to complete either program. Some rarely finish in two years and there is an optional fourth year if a student wants to take it. Sanna indicated that many athletes and musicians opt for a fourth year because all of the practicing takes up their time. Also, students build their own schedule, much like in a college setting. They have required courses which meet for 70 minutes about three times a week. Or a class could extend for three hours. There was a lot of flexibility.
We only saw one school in process and it was a class for adults in the nursing program. We were there in the morning and the class had about 20 adults taking the class in a room outfitted with hospital beds and baby and adult rubber patients. By hand raise, about half indicated that they were preparing to change careers. This adult education is also free.
Our English teacher guide had just finished a four month Fulbright placement in Bloomington, Indiana in the fall of 2017. She made a point of showing us the faculty lounge. I have a feeling she had seen the faculty lounge at Bloomington High School North. The lounge is more like a suite, with couches, chairs, a full kitchen, a large conference room and individual, glassed-off offices and a wall of windows facing the bright out of doors. Yes. I think she had seen the lounge in Indiana. We oogled appropriately.
We did not get to see a high school class but joined the students for lunch. Earlier in the day, I had the impression that the building was empty, but there were at least 150 students eating with us. Again, the lunch is free to all and a single menu for the day is offered with gluten-free, vegan, and lactose free foods. I had a fish cake with gluten free crust. This is the first fish cake I have eaten since my diagnosis. It was good.
Sanna Leinonen is a teacher leader who has brought Phenomena Based Education to her school. Just prior to lunch she had a colleague go through the program with us. We would recognize this as a form of Project Based Learning. Leinonen did say that a downfall of the Finnish Secondary program is that it is difficult to get to know your students. Teachers have a new group of students every seven weeks, which is when each one of the 5 modules of the year begin. (On the vocational side of the school, students work in 4 modules. This has been a challenge to their attempt to collaborate across the two schools.)
The Phenomenon Based education is being experimented with for a variety of reasons. Sanna said that the students do not have the sense of community of American high schools because they are on campus at varying times and with varying students. There are no athletic teams or other extra curricular programs at the secondary school that helps to build community among students. She felt the team-based instruction--offered for one of the 7 week modules in the first year of secondary school--provided the students with this sense of community. Also, the instructors are attempting to focus on incorporating 21st Century skills (collaboration and creativity). Finnish education has traditionally focused on the individual rather than the group. Sanna and others are trying to change this. This sounds very like the current push in American education. We are not so different.