Saudi teachers celebrated their graduation from the six-months professional training programme in Helsinki, on November 29, 2017.
“We are very happy and proud of this programme. We encourage you to use the gained knowledge to develop your schools and the education system in Saudi Arabia. Make the best of what you have learned here,” said Pekka T. Saavalainen, CEO of Finland University, in his speech for the graduation event.
“Remember to be patient. Work hard, stay positive and support each other. Things can be changed and you have the tools to initiate a change,” said Vesa Valkila, Vice-Principal of Normaalikoulu in Turku, in his speech on behalf of the Finnish teachers and programme staff.
The group of 100 Saudi teachers came to Finland for a reason – to learn from the best teachers in the world. When asked about the training the group was unanimous – an excellent professional experience.
“We had an amazing chance to see how the Finnish education system works and what makes it special. We have learned a lot. I will take with me the concept of student autonomy, teachers’ professional freedom, and the idea of teaching the skills students need instead of narrowly focusing on the curriculum,” noted English teacher Abdulaziz Alfahmi.
Mutual learning experience
The participants return home with a new perspective around teaching and plenty of ideas on how to develop their schools in Saudi Arabia. The training was an eye-opening experience also for the Finnish mentor-teachers who supported Saudi teachers’ learning during the six months.
“The main goal of the programme was to enhance the pedagogical competence of the Saudi teachers. However, these trainings are always two-way processes. We worked as equal colleagues, exchanging ideas and opinions. We see many things from different angles, and we had fruitful discussions about the theories and practice,” said mentor Tuija Niemi, who worked with Saudis in Turku.
“This project enabled us to observe our own system and skills from a different viewpoint. Working in a programme like this demands special expertise, and it was tremendously inspiring to see the unique cooperation between Finnish and Saudi teachers,” noted Hilkka Koivistoinen, mentor teacher from Joensuu.
Many of the Saudi teachers came to Finland with their families. The children studied in a School Programme, organised in a regular Finnish school.
“Through the experiences of their own children Saudi teachers were able to see how the Finnish school system works at the student level. It was inspiring for us mentors to see how excited the Saudis were about the student-centered learning after they saw how it affected their children,” said Nina Sipilä, mentor teacher from Tampere.
The training programme ran simultaneously in Tampere, Turku and Joensuu. It demanded strategic planning, coordination and cooperation between the member universities.
“There were many changes on the way, but no major problems. We had a good team coordinating the programme and cooperation between administrative and academic staff was seamless,” said Outi Stüber, Programme Coordinator from Tampere.
The next significant Finnish export sector
The training based on Finnish teacher education was tailor-made for the Saudi teachers.
“We have a lot of expertise in our classrooms and in projects like these the whole potential is released. Our teachers’ ability to conceptualise classroom activity and explain it to adult learners is our strong point,” said mentor Hannu Koskela, who worked with the Saudis in Joensuu.
“Finnish education is the next big thing in the world, and we have what it takes to be a significant Finnish export sector. Our multidisciplinary research universities are full of world-class researchers who are eager to share their knowledge. We have the perfect package to offer and there is a growing interest towards our approach,” said Heikki Happonen, Principal of Normaalikoulu in Joensuu.
Finnish teacher-training schools are among the best in the world. Finnish teacher education is based on research and teachers are trained like scientists.
“Teacher training has its rules that are followed but it is not standardised like in many other countries. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. This makes the Finnish model more adaptable to different contexts,” noted Kari Nieminen, mentor teacher from Tampere.
“We have the facilities to train world-class teachers. The key is that the foreign teachers come to Finland and see how the Finnish school works. It is important to see the theories in practice to understand the system and the culture it is based on. The Saudi project is an excellent example of this,” concluded Veli-Matti Hakanen, Principal of Normaalikoulu in Turku.
Currently Finland University is negotiating with the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Education on a new group of teachers to begin their training in Finland in spring 2018.
Pekka T. Saavalainen, CEO Finland University
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Finland University is the international education brand, and marketing and sales company of four leading Finnish research universities: University of Eastern Finland, University of Tampere, University of Turku and Åbo Akademi University. All universities are in the top 2% of global university rankings.
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