Unlocking student creativity in mainstream education: is Finland getting it right?
Published: 29 Mar 2017
Lauren Grunwell, a secondary school teacher from Scarborough who has taught English Language and Literature in comprehensive schools in Leeds, has recently returned from travelling in Finland and Denmark to investigate inspiring classroom practices which instil innovation, independence and problem-solving skills in students. Her travels were enabled by a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Travelling Fellowship Award, in partnership with the Mercers’ Company.
Lauren was inspired to apply for a Fellowship after becoming frustrated with the UK’s exam orientated system. She spent five weeks in Finland and Denmark observing lessons, interviewing teachers and students, and visiting teacher training Universities.
“Working in UK secondary schools, I have become concerned about the impact of exam culture on my teaching and on my ability to fully support students. Fundamentally, I have found myself questioning how exam culture helps prepare children for adult life. This is what led me to consider alternative educational structures. I was inspired to pursue my research in Finland and Denmark to investigate alternative pedagogies: those which choose not to focus on examinations and league tables but which seek to promote student autonomy and independence” – Lauren Grunwell
Finland has established a global reputation as a model educational nation, consistently at the top of OECD international education system rankings. The Finnish education system values ingenuity, creativity and risk-taking, recognising that, as well as knowledge, students need to develop their ability to apply and repurpose knowledge in order to survive in a rapidly changing world.
Lauren observed how the newly introduced 2016 curriculum in Finland focuses on implementing styles of teaching intended to inspire meaningful learning. Amongst these, Phenomenon-based Learning (PBL) is a cross-curricular, problem-based learning method based in real life topics, ideas and issues (or phenomena). This pedagogy recognises that school must prepare students for jobs that do not currently exist, and for using technologies that haven’t yet been invented. In so doing, PBL shifts emphasis from “what students learn”, to “how students learn” and the development of critical thinking skills, problem-solving and metacognition.
Having returned to the UK, Lauren will work with schools and colleges to transcribe aspects of her findings to a UK context. In particular, she hopes to develop student-led cross-curricular and project-based learning methods to promote student autonomy and independence.
Read Lauren’s report here
Notes to editors
The Mercers’ Company have jointly funded 10 Fellowships a year from 2013-2015, to develop linked projects to improve the educational achievement of young people aged 5-19, with particular emphasis on English, Maths, Science and Technology. The Mercers’ Company is closely involved with the running of 17 schools across the country and makes a number of grants to improve the availability and quality of education for children and young adults, focused on young people from the ages of 5-25.