Finnish-style play-based learning to provide alternative to Gulf’s hothouse education scene

Children learning through play at the school in Tampere, Finland. (Reuters)
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Updated 23 May 2020

Finnish-style play-based learning to provide alternative to Gulf’s hothouse education scene

  • The Finnish approach to education is grounded in the idea of providing schools with autonomy and support and giving teachers freedom
  • Finland has a national pre-primary curriculum that is focused on holistic, play-based learning and skills development

DUBAI: Finland’s school operators are capitalizing on the country’s reputation for educational excellence by establishing a foothold in the Middle East.
The Finnish approach to education is grounded in the idea of providing schools with autonomy and support and giving teachers freedom to choose how they go about their work.
It represents a stark contrast to more rigid US and British curriculum schools in the region where many expatriates send their children.
“We don’t really want to compare the Finnish education with other systems," said Jouni Kangasniemi, program director of Education Finland, in an interview with Arab News. "But it has one of the best education systems in the world and we are ready to share our ‘secrets’ openly. Finnish expertise is one of the late-comers in the market … and it is well worth exploring what kind of alternatives we have to offer. Education systems in most countries rely heavily on standardized testing and inspections. In Finland, we do not believe – nor need standardized heavy testing or school inspectors to supervise the quality of instruction.” he added.
Among the Finnish educational system’s key features is a national pre-primary curriculum that is focused on holistic, play-based learning and skills development.
“Our teachers are professionals of learning sciences and focus on helping every child flourish. The education methods are improved continuously. There is a lot of innovation happening in all our schools every day. Students learn and are happy to go to school at the same time,” said Kangasniemi.
Students start first grade education at seven-years-old compared with six for the American system and even younger for the British system where children have entered school by the time they are five.
“It is a very odd situation in an international comparison – as in many countries learning outcomes are good, but students are very stressed and tired of long school days,” Kangasniemi said.
The initial successes of Finnish schools and education providers which have established a foothold in the region do not mask the challenges they face.
Omnia Education Partnerships CEO Mervi Jansson recalls an entrepreneurial course it conducted for 130 Saudi high school students, most of whom had aspirations of careers with national oil company Aramco.
“They used to think entrepreneurship was only for those who failed university,” Jansson said. “We took the Finnish competencies and built this into a course suitable for Saudi Arabia, we localized it. We taught the Saudi teachers, we supported them and they taught the course in their own schools.”
“I think Saudi Arabia needs to look at their education strategy in terms of lifelong learning, in terms of how to provide upskilling and reskilling for a large variety of population but also to see what kind of program they should offer to the youth that is more interesting.”
Jansson was nonetheless heartened by the positive feedback from Saudi education officials and hoped the course would be “expanded into 100 Saudi schools,” plus a potential partnership in the UAE.
Meanwhile Finnish Global Education Solutions is starting the first early childhood education center in the MENA region, CEO Antti Kaskinen told Arab News.
“We cannot yet officially divulge which country it is because we want the Finnish and host country’s ministers of education to meet first, and make the partnership official,” Kaskinen said.
“We are also looking into schools and teachers’ education in Saudi Arabia. We are holding ongoing negotiations [at an early stage] and met in December concerning this. It looks quite good … by the end of this year we will have something,” Kaskinen added.
Helsinki International Schools and its Saudi partner EduGuide for Education and Training, meanwhile, signed two new agreements to open three Finnish-based schools in the Kingdom – one in Riyadh this year, and one each in Jeddah and Dammam by the end of 2021.
Other Finnish education companies are looking forward to open in the region despite tough competition, and which Education Finland’s Kangasniemi said the Nordic government is actively involved in.
“An important part of our work is to maintain a constructive dialogue between the decision makers and ministries of education both in the Gulf and in Finland, aside from providing training on cultural and business aspects in the Gulf markets,” he said.


$8bn blow to Erdogan as investors flee Turkey

Updated 09 July 2020

$8bn blow to Erdogan as investors flee Turkey

  • Overseas holdings in Istanbul stock exchange are at lowest in 16 years

ANKARA: Foreign capital is flooding out of Turkey in a massive vote of no confidence in President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s economic competence.
Overseas investors have withdrawn nearly $8 billion from Turkish stocks since January, according to Central Bank statistics, reducing foreign investment in the Istanbul stock exchange from $32.3 billion to $24.4 billion.
As recently as 2013, the figure was $82 billion, and foreign investors now own less than 50 percent of stocks for the first time in 16 years.
“Foreign investment has left Turkey for several reasons, both internal and external,” Win Thin, global head of currency strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman, told Arab News.
“Externally, investors fled riskier assets like emerging markets during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Some of those flows are returning, but investors are being much more discerning and Turkey does not seem so attractive.”
In terms of internal factors, Thin said that Turkish policymakers had made it hard for foreign investors to transact in Turkey. “This includes real money clients, not just speculative.
“By implementing ad hoc measures to try and limit speculative activity, Turkey has made it hard for real money as well. Besides these problems, Turkey’s fundamentals remain poor compared to much of the emerging markets.”
Erdogan allies claim international players are manipulating the Istanbul stock exchange through automated trading, and have demanded action to make it difficult for them to trade in Turkish assets.
Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Merrill Lynch, Barclays and Credit Suisse were banned this month from short-selling stocks for up to three months, and this year local lenders were briefly banned by the banking regulator from trading in Turkish lira with Citigroup, BNP Paribas and UBS
JPMorgan was investigated by Turkish authorities last year after the bank published a report that advised its clients to short sell the Turkish lira.
MSCI, the provider of research-based indexes and analytics, warned last month that it may relegate Turkey from emerging market status to frontier-market status because of bans on short selling and stock lending.
With the market becoming less transparent, overseas fund managers, especially with short-term portfolios, are unenthusiastic about the Turkish market and are becoming more concerned about any forthcoming introduction of other liquidity restrictions.
The exodus of foreign capital is likely to undermine Turkey’s drive for economic growth, especially during the coronavirus pandemic when employment and investment levels have gone down, with the Turkish lira facing serious volatility.