December 16th, 2015 ~ Vol. 85 No. 49
Crowsnest Consolidated students, teachers visit Finland
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Moriah Schuh photo
Pictured left to right, Liam Arbuckle, Rain Inaba, and Christian Wadstein in their Canadian gear while on a Finish exchange.
Pass Herald Reporter
What do a bunch of teenagers from the Pass have in common with a similar group of teens in Finland?

Turns out they both excel at science and math, they both enjoy a student centered education system, both their government’s invest heavily in education and they both like reindeer pizza.

For five years, Crowsnest Consolidated High School (CCHS) and Kitee Upper Secondary School in Finland have been engaged in the Finland-Alberta International Partnership (FINAL). CCHS is one of five Alberta high schools chosen by the Alberta Teachers’ Association to embark on this educational exchange.

The partnership between Finland and Alberta is based on both parties sharing their different approaches to education.

In Finland, schools are tiny, teachers are highly qualified and extremely well paid and students are shepherded into either a vocational stream, where they learn to work, or an academic stream, where they go onto higher education and research, at the age of 16.

In Alberta, education adheres to the North American standard with large schools and an emphasis on completing high school before deciding to pursue work or more school.

Both systems produce clever people. A list of assessments show that since 1995 Albertan and Finnish students are consistently exceeding both national and international averages in science and math.

Alberta and Finland have a lot in common, said a statement from the Alberta Teachers’ Association. They both have good schools and educated people. They both have good hockey teams. Both are located next to politically powerful neighbours and both are northerly places.
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Ian Baxter, vice-principal at CCHS, said the similarities end there. Finland is socialist and homogenous with a tiny population while Alberta is traditionally conservative and has a more diverse population, he said. That hasn’t stopped the two schools from creating a strong bond that has shaped the lives of the students and educators involved in the project.

Baxter went to Kitee in October with 12 students and English teacher Krysta MacDonald.

The students were completely immersed in Finnish culture. They stayed with Finnish families and attended high school. They played Finnish baseball, learned Finnish words, and tried new foods like moose, bear, karelian pasties, salmiakki; a salty liquorice and of course, Pizza Berlusconi, which has smoked reindeer, with tomato, cheese, chanterelle and red onion.

The teachers were studying the Finnish educational system.

Baxter said he was impressed by the Finnish system, which requires both primary and secondary school teachers to have 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.

Children don’t start school until they are seven, they rarely take exams or do homework until they are well into their teens and they get much more time at recess.

There’s also an emphasis on smaller schools. In Finland if a school reaches 500 students, it’ll be split in two. This resonated with Baxter as CCHS is the smallest of the Alberta schools participating in FINAL.

“With a small school, you know those students really well,” he said. “You’re not just the administrator.”

In the years since partnering with Kitee Upper Secondary School, Baxter admits he didn’t know how powerful the learning experience for his students would be.

“If we really want to teach global citizenry and if we want to talk about nationalism, we have to give students the opportunity to get out of their own community,” he said. “They have to get out of their own comfort zone to see how people live.”

However, Baxter said he’s not sure his students would be comfortable deciding whether to choose academics or work at such a young age.
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“We’re not pigeonholing students,” he said. “We’re keeping doors open for them. I think our students would struggle with that decision. At Grade 9, it’s a big decision to make [but] I see merits of both systems. Why would be trying to teach academics to a kid who wants to be a welder?”

Kitee Upper Secondary School teaches academics, not vocations. CCHS student Rain Inaba went on the trip and described the Finnish students as work oriented and focused.

“It definitely puts a lot of responsibility on the students at a young age, considering they have to make their career choice at that point,” he said while noting that Canadian students also have to choose whether to take advanced science or math in Grade 9, which can also stream students into different career paths.

CCHS student Londyn Strandquist said many of the Finnish students she spoke to chose to pursue academics because they wanted to stick with their friends.

“With most of the students we hung out with, they were going into that school because of their friend group,” she said. “And friendship is such a strong thing at that age.”

CCHS student Kira Taryn said the trip meant a lot to her because it pushed her out of her comfort zone.

“I am an incredibly shy person, but during this trip I danced with strangers in the middle of a train station,” she said. “It's incredible how close we became with the Finnish students in such a short amount of time.”

Taryn said her classmates keep in touch with the Finnish students despite the time difference, and chat using an online group called “The Finnadians.”

“I can guarantee that any one of us would go back to Finland in a heartbeat, and I wouldn't trade this experience for the world,” she said.
The Kitee-Pass partnership is continuing. The Finns are scheduled to arrive back in the Pass in April 2017.
December 16th ~ Vol. 85 No. 49
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