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April 16th, 2014 ~ Vol. 84 No. 15
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Finnish students visit the High School
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Ezra Black Photo
A group of students and educators including Senni Tolvanen, 16 and Kristina Turunen, 17 were on exchange in the Crowsnest Pass last week from the municipality of Kitee, which is in the North Karelia region of Eastern Finland.
EZRA BLACK
Pass Herald Reporter
Like many teens, Finnish exchange student Senni Tolvanen, 16, does not know what she wants to do after high school.
But, thanks to her country’s two-tiered post-secondary education system, she’s already being streamed away from a career in the trades and towards academics.
Ten students and two educators from Kitee Upper Secondary School in Finland were in the Crowsnest Pass last week for the Finland-Alberta International Partnership (FINAL).
Crowsnest Consolidated High School (CCHS) is one of five Alberta high schools chosen by the Alberta Teachers Association to embark on this educational exchange.
According to Alberta Education, the province’s students are pretty clever. A list of assessments shows that since 1995 Alberta students are consistently exceeding both national and international averages in science and math. In a Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) done in 2012, Alberta’s students scored above average in reading, math and science assessments.
Both Finland and Alberta score similarly in international assessments but they take a radically different approach to education.
The Finnish system goes against the evaluation-driven, centralized model the Western world uses.
From daycare to university, Finnish education is a system with zero tuition fees. Both primary and secondary teachers need a master’s degree to work. Entrance into teacher’s college is fiercely competitive with only about 10 percent of applicants making the cut in some cases. They also pay their teachers much more than we do in the West.
In addition, their system puts less emphasis on grading and formal exams. Children don’t start school until the age of seven and their first years of education are devoid of tests and grades.
With a 93 percent high school graduation rate, the system is the envy of the world.
But one of the biggest differences between the two systems is that at the age of 16, a Finnish student must decides whether to continue in academics, or to choose a vocation.
Tolvanen and the rest of her classmates chose the academic stream.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do after [high school]. I was too young to decide what to do with my life,” she says of her decision.
continued below...

Ian Baxter, assistant principal at CCHS, traveled to Finland last May to tour schools and gain insight into their education system.
“I think [the age of 16] is really early. They don’t. But I think it’s early for them to decide what stream they want to go to. But in the Finnish system they very much believe that’s the age they need to make the decision,” says Baxter. “It means if you want to be a mechanic you won’t be doing academic courses in grade 10, you would be starting to get your mechanic’s ticket.”
Antti Simonen, an English teacher from Kitee Upper Secondary School says most students are comfortable with the decision.
He says that more academically oriented kids go to upper secondary school while students who know they want to get into the trades take the vocational path.
Vocational students do take some language courses and math but they mostly focus on their trade and receive lots of on the job training. About 43 percent of Finnish students take this path.
“You get to concentrate and set different goals and standard for what you want to achieve,” he says of the Finnish system.
It has been three years since CCHS and Kitee Upper Secondary School entered into an educational partnership. In November of 2013, 11 students from the Pass spent a week in Finland. From April 6 to 15, the group of Finnish students returned the favour.
They spent their mornings researching different projects at the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre. The Finnish youth were studying the Hillcrest mine disaster, the Frank Slide, geology and immigration and ethnicity.
“The kids are really into it,” says Christ Webber, spokesperson for the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre. “We were very impressed with how hard they were working. Every single group was really hunkering down and focusing on the projects.”
Their afternoons were spent back at the high school for regular classes. But it wasn’t all work and no play as the students visited Banff over the weekend and spent their evenings with host families. They flew back to Finland on Tuesday.
Simonen says the town of Kitee was chosen for the exchange because it has many similarities with the Crowsnest Pass.
Kitee has a population of about 9,000 and according to the town’s website the skidoo tracks in the area are considered to be among the best in Finland. The town also has a sports park, a ski jumping slope, a shooting range, an ice hockey rink and a new swimming pool. The town is also famous for its enthusiasm for Finnish baseball and its pontikka; Finnish moonshine.
“I think we found a perfect match for the project,” says Simonen.
Tolvanen says she was impressed by the size of the mountains in the Pass and the friendliness of the people compared to the usually demure Finns.
She says she wants to go to a university of applied sciences even though admission to Finnish universities is highly competitive. She’s still unsure of to do with the rest of her life.
“Something social, with kids I think. A teacher maybe,” she says.
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April 16th ~ Vol. 84 No. 15
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