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Valuing the teacher
16 Jun 2014 Beata Balogová Foreigners in Slovakia
TEACHERS are highly valued in Finland, with only 10 percent of the applicants accepted into teacher education programmes, explains Henna Knuuttila, who leads Finland’s diplomatic micro-mission in Bratislava, when asked about the top performance of her homeland in international education rankings. She also suggests that Finland’s challenging geographical location has made Finns natural problem solvers. The Slovak Spectator spoke to Knuuttila about education reform, innovation, Finland’s economic challenges as well as the potential of the tourism industry.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Finland’s education system has been making it to the top of international rankings. How has Finland achieved such an exceptional standing in education?
Maybe it’s worth mentioning that in Finland preschool starts at the age of six and first grade at the age of seven: we believe that childhood should be as long as possible. The teaching methods applied at schools are another point, as these are actively being developed. I recently attended an event here in Slovakia where Finnish teachers described how they use live role-plays, so-called larps, in teaching, while modern technology like smartphones and tablets are often used as well. In Finland, the pedagogical freedom of the teachers is extensive, while only the framework of the curriculum is given.
TSS: Are education reforms frequent in Finland?
TSS: One of the most frequently mentioned features of the Finnish school system is that children are not burdened by standardised tests. What are other main specifics of the Finnish education system?
TSS: The European Commission names Finland as an innovation leader within the EU along with Denmark, Germany and Sweden. What factors have helped Finland to become such an innovator?
They suggested that not only high-quality education, know-how and adequate financial support for innovations and start-ups are behind Finland’s success, but also an encouraging atmosphere and curiosity among people, combined with openness and risk-taking.
People are encouraged to establish a company or a start-up. There are examples of high-volume incubators for start-ups, for example, the Slush event or the Start-up sauna. Slush is a focal point for Eurasian start-ups and technology talent to meet with international investors and media, while in 2013 Slush gathered 7,000 attendees and 1,200 companies from 68 countries. Start-up Sauna helps promising early-stage start-ups to get ready for taking the next step: 109 companies have graduated from this programme since 2010.
According to the World Economic Forum's Europe 2020 Competitiveness Index, which was published on June 10, Finland was ranked as the most competitive economy in Europe. Among the reasons cited were that Finland’s enterprise environment fosters business creation, and the country has a well-functioning labour market as well as strong social inclusion based on low inequality. It was also mentioned that Finland’s economic prowess does not come at the expense of environmentally sustainable practices and outcomes.
TSS: Earlier this year Finland slipped into another recession, the third, in six years, in a time when the government has been trying to tame public finances with a number of austerity measures. What are the main challenges that Finland’s economy currently faces?
At the same time we face the aging of the population and growing expenses for pensions and health care. The current government has made some hard decisions to tackle the situation, while these include, for example, reducing the community tax in order to give incentives to the economy to encourage hiring new people, cuts in public expenditure and cuts in social benefits. The state will also cut support for day care: every child is entitled to day care and the state support for this entitlement depends on the financial situation of the parents. But cuts pertain to all fields, including the foreign service. We now have at our embassy what we call a micro-mission: only me and two people. I would say we have a tiny but very effective team, so it is manageable.
Nevertheless, there are also success stories with Finnish industry, especially in the field of game industries and clean-tech. For example, the game industry is growing fast: 125 new companies were established in the last three years and the sector grows over 40 percent per year. Finland is one of the global leaders in the field of clean technologies and we hope that after ICT, this sector will lead the way to new economic growth. Finland has become a hotbed for environmental technology partly because of our harsh climate and lack of fossil fuel resources. A propos, here in Bratislava our embassy shares the office premises with one Finnish-Slovak clean-tech company called Solved.
TSS: Has the potential for Finnish-Slovak cooperation been fully tapped? Where do you see room for further ties? What are some examples of successful Slovak-Finnish business cooperation, if you could name a few?
TSS: Back in 2010, Finland had the world’s third highest newspaper consumption and it maintains a high rate of news readership. What are the factors behind Finland being such a news-hungry nation?
TSS: Where do you see the greatest potential for the tourism industry in terms of attracting Finnish tourists to Slovakia? Do you think Finnish people know enough about Slovakia, and vice versa?
Slovak tourists were visible in Finland during the ice hockey championships last year. Unfortunately, the prices in Finland are relatively higher than in Slovakia, which still might be a factor which prevents more Slovaks from visiting the country.
TSS: If you are able to recall, what came as the biggest surprise after your arrival in Slovakia - something you had not expected?
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