Since the first PISA results almost 20 years ago showed that there is something very special in Finnish Education, there has been a growing interest globally to understanding it. Many education professionals have decided to travel – sometimes to the other side of the world – to see for their own eyes what the Finnish education is all about. And after hosting for more than 1000 education enthusiasts from more than 50 different countries we have so many testimonies saying more or less the same: being in the classroom, observing Finnish teachers and the interrelation between them and the pupils, and talking with children, teachers, principals and experts has made them understand. You can see videos, you can read books, you can even have a Finnish expert at your country running a workshop about it, but the picture is not complete until you step into a Finnish school.
Logically, the growing interest in Finnish education has increased the number of persons that want to visit Finnish schools. During the first years, everyone in Finland was happy with the sudden interest and wanted to receive all the possible delegations. Soon the Ministry and education departments – at least in the biggest cities – realized that there are more people coming in that they have resources to attend. Also schools started to complain that the teachers and principals don’t have time to do what they are supposed to do – teaching the children and not going around the school with different groups. The solution was finally quite simple: the administration decided to receive and take to the schools only the “VIP” visitors, and all the others needed to contact Finnish National Agency for Education, universities or different companies promoting Finnish education, and pay for the visit. In addition, the schools started to ask money for the visits or simply refused to receive other than VIP guests. Consequently, visiting a Finnish public school, where studying is free, has converted into something quite expensive, almost luxurious, especially for single persons that want to visit a school on a date that best suits for their travel plans.
So, what are the options, and how expensive it is to visit a Finnish school (if you are not a VIP)?
Almost all the biggest cities in Finland have at least one company or university with commercial department that are selling school visits. Visits that are organized by a university are normally more expensive but those visitors with not very limited budget tend to prefer working with a university. Universities also have direct contact with professor-level experts so if you are interested in the academic perspective of Finnish education, university is probably your best choice. On the other hand, if you are more interested in spending time in schools, listen to Finnish teachers and principals, and learn from their practical solutions, you will probably get a better visit program from a company. Here is a list of some of the universities and companies that are organizing school visits and study tours in different cities:
Tampere: Learning Scoop
Turku: University of Turku
The price of a school visit depends heavily of the number of participants. The reason is very simple: Almost all of the costs of the visit are fixed: fee to the school, salary of the host, and transportation are practically the same whether there are one or twenty visitors. That is the reason why there can be such a huge difference in the price per person. For a single visitor the lowest price on the market is 290 euros, but then you have to come to Finland on certain dates. For individuals or small groups, to get the most out of the visit and the long journey, it would make more sense to attend an educational conference, event or special program that include school visits. Almost all the above-mentioned organizations offer those as well and the prices are many times below 1000 euros. The other advantage compared to a single visit is that your Finnish education experience does not depend on one school and visit. Many clients have commented that it was only after the second or third day when they started to understand the dynamics and logic of the teaching in Finnish schools. In addition, if you only visit a recently built modern school you might get a completely wrong picture of the reasons behind the success of Finnish education.
As far as customized visit programs or study tours for groups, the price depends – in addition to the number of participants – of the content. Normally, the more professors and well known (at least in Finland) experts you have, the higher the price. Also visiting Finnish National Agency for Education, a university or certain schools, such as a teacher training school can be surprisingly costly. Of course, if you come all the way to Finland, you should make the most of the visit and not only look at the price. Having said that, our recommendation is not to make the study tour too heavy. It might look good for who is financing the tour, but with jet lag, there is very little you will learn after six hours of concentrated observing, discussing and listening. Try to get more information about the different options and plan your study tour together with a service provider. Most of them have a lot of experience organizing different visit programs and can recommend a good combination that fits to your needs and objectives.
When to visit Finnish schools?
Finnish school year is a bit different than in the rest of the “Western countries”. The school year starts around August 15th (this varies between cities), and ends around June 1st. In addition to this two and half-month break, the first and last two weeks of the school year are very complicated for visits but for different reasons: When the school year has just started, the schools normally don’t want to receive visitors as the teachers are trying the get started with new pupils and groups. By the end of the school year, it is easier to visit a school but many times the activities during the last days can be quite far from normal academic learning sessions – children are playing, watching movies, cleaning the classroom etc. Not too much to learn from the famous Finnish education. The same goes with the Christmas break – from December 15th till January 15th visits are not recommended. In addition to the Christmas break there are two one-week school holidays, one during Autumn and one during Spring (normally in October and February but that depends of the city and in which part of Finland the school is located). So make first sure that the schools are open before making any further plans!
So is there anything to see for instance during the summer, as for many that is the only time a teacher or principal can travel to Finland? Normally during the first three weeks of June the principals are still working and can receive visitors, go around the (empty) school and discuss about the everyday life in Finnish schools. After that, it gets very complicated – you need to consider yourself lucky if someone can organize you a school visit, especially during July. Some organizations are offering summer schools for education professionals, where you can learn about the Finnish education and talk with Finnish teachers and experts. A couple of examples below:
HEAT2019 in Suomenlinna, Helsinki
How about the Finnish weather, what would the best time for visit in that sense? If you are able to choose the dates, and don’t feel comfortable in cold weather, September and early May would be the best options. On the contrary, if you are looking for snow and real winter conditions the best choice would be Rovaniemi between December and April. In Helsinki area, you should have snow at least in January and February but that cannot be 100% guaranteed. Personally, I would recommend coming to Finland during winter, hotels are less expensive and it can be quite an experience seeing small children playing with snow at school while temperature is 10 below zero (Celsius).
Finally, how to get the most out of the school visit? I think that the best visit is where you are not just a visitor but also an active actor. The more you give the more you get. There are teacher exchange programs that require official collaboration, some kind of a sister school or a partner university to visit. The disadvantage is that this option is open for very few. Nowadays some school visit providers also offer job shadowing programs or programs that include job shadowing. This means that you can observe teachers during many hours or days and many times the observer is asked to participate in teaching – at least telling the pupils about his or her country and school, showing pictures, etc. Not that you are just visiting a Finnish school – you are teaching there as well! An experience hard to forget. A couple of examples offering visits with job shadowing:
Visit and Learn, Helsinki
Colours and Shadows, Oulu