I'm now well into my second leg of the journey in Finland. Having spent the first nine days or so in Helsinki, I've now moved much further north to a city called Jyvasklyla - not disimilar in size to somewhere like Lichfield.
Finland is somewhere that feels very homely and very safe. It's been an enlightening journey so far; a journey that has taught me many things! For example, did you know that there are 89 Music Institutes scattered across Finland that are part funded by the government? Ordinary schools usually provide 1-2 lessons of music per week, but these music institutes provide an extension to the school day (which ends early at 1 or 2pm). The funding received from the state and municipalities signifies that music is held in high regard here.
Then there are 'music play schools'. Attending these is the one most popular activity for pre-school children - again, supported by the government. Funding per pupil generally works out at 57% from the state, 25% municipality and 18% fees from parents. There is no equivalant to this system in the UK.
Finland's population is around 10% of the UK's. Around 67,000 Finnish children attend music schools, with about 36% of these attending Early Childhood Music classes (age 0-7years). Research here in Finland shows that a musical education, that starts with singing, makes a huge difference to how the brain works and learns.
In my last blog I mentioned the word 'trust'. This is a big thing here - and although there is a core curriculum for both music institutes and ordinary schools, teachers are given the flexiblity to deliver lessons that are based on the child's needs. It's incredibly child-centred. This means that the child's motivation to learn is high - it's not simply that they are being told what they need to know. The reason teachers are able to be so flexible is because they are free from much of the 'red tape' that chokes many of our own UK teachers. Some primary school children as young as 8, can apply to attend 'extended music classes' - which form part of an ordinary primary school, not a specialist one - where they develop their musicianship further, alongside other topics.
There are no tests and no inspections in Finland - but every teacher music have a masters degree to be able to teach. It's difficult to get in to! The UK government places so much importance on testing and inspections that teaching has moved away from the child in many ways in order to tick boxes and reach targets. The UK spends £40M on the SATs tests evry year - and an astonishing £207M every year on school inspections. Imagine how that money could be distributed to schools in areas that really need it, like music education.
Lastly, the Finnish approach demonstrates that fact that everyone is seen as equal: there are no unecessary barriers. All children call all teachers by their first name, including the head teacher; there is no school uniform; all children (and staff) take off their shoes on entering the classroom and there are regular breaks to allow children to stay focused. It's interesting that all of the above seems to work well here - there is a lot of respect for one another in an environment that makes learning fun and where kids are motivated. Titles and hierarchy seem unimportant. People have roles, yes, but respect isn't expected; it's earned!