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Finland’s Approach to Cultural Learning: An Education

How can arts and culture leaders advocate for the value and impact of cultural education in society? Lisa Broom, Cambridge Junction’s Creative Learning Manager went to Helsinki researching how Fins value art and culture within children and young people’s education; she shares some of the Finnish philosophy that inspires her thinking.

In December I had the privilege of visiting Helsinki, Finland with the aim of better understanding their education system and the value that they place on cultural learning. It was a whirlwind of a three-day visit, but within that time I had the pleasure of visiting one of their basic education schools, an Art & Design School called the Annantalo Centre; an arts centre whose principle value is to create a positive atmosphere for children and young people to experience art and culture and the Arkki School; an architecture school that believes in the power of play and aims to light a spark in young people so that they want to influence and participate in the development of their built environment. In addition, I also met with the Counsellor of Education for general upper secondary education and basic education in the arts at the Finnish National Agency for Education.

I am currently engaged on the Extend Leadership Programme. Extend was developed in response to the under-representation of learning and education staff within senior leadership roles in the arts and cultural sectors. The trip was part of a body of research that I, and 3 colleagues from across the arts sector are conducting as part of a group enquiry project.

Our primary research question asked, ‘How can we, as aspiring arts and cultural leaders, advocate for the value and impact of cultural education and learning within society including the interventionist aspect of culture and the arts?

To find answers, we wanted to explore several secondary modes of enquiry, including, what were the most effective strategies, both nationally and internationally, for ensuring that every child and young person is entitled to a rich cultural education. Me and Fiona MacDonald, Learning Manager: Schools and Young People at Royal Institute of British Architects set off for Finland in order to explore the strategies employed there. What we discovered was inspiring; their approach to education is deservedly at the top of its game on the world stage.

Mental health and wellbeing is seen as intrinsic to a child’s education and is demonstrated through their pedagogy and approach to child centred learning. In the UK, I feel that we are constantly having to firefight the growing number of mental health issues affecting young people today. A survey carried out by The Mental Health Foundation suggests that more children and young people have problems with their mental health today than 30 years ago. The Imagine Nation, Value of Cultural Learning report details that “People who take part in the arts are 38% more likely to report good health”. In addition, a recent BBC survey, to which over 40% of schools in England responded, confirmed that creative arts subjects are being squeezed out of children’s education.

In Finland, arts subjects continue to flourish, as they understand that by taking part in arts activity you are developing the whole child; one who is creative, collaborative and confident enough to use their own voice. Finland is in the top 3 countries for the amount of time devoted to the arts on the national curriculum, and the arts are seen as instrumental in the country’s success. Finland is also most proud and well known for the autonomy of its schools. There is no performance ranking amongst schools, no continuous testing of student’s ability, as Fins believe that children will underperform if they are regularly tested; those doing well will become complacent and those who are doing less well will become disengaged. Teachers are trusted to do their jobs well, without inspections and OFSTED reports, which in turn helps them feel respected and valued. In Finland, teaching is considered a highly regarded profession, with teaching often oversubscribed with huge levels of teacher satisfaction.

Whilst this does all sound ideological, it is also worth understanding the context within which Finland is operating. Finland has a population of just 5.5 million, that’s less than the population of London alone, with only a 6% migrant population compared to 14% in the UK. They don’t have the same challenges that the UK faces, however their firm belief that they “cannot afford to let down their children” as Mikko from their Board of Education described, is to be admired. And if we can learn just one thing from the Finnish system, it is that the health and wellbeing of the young people we serve must be paramount.



Lisa Broom

Lisa has worked for the past 10 years within arts and creative learning. Currently the Creative Learning Manager at Cambridge Junction she previously worked with The Core at Corby Cube professional arts venue in a small town where she really had to start from grass roots level to develop partnerships and sustain new audiences and participants. Prior to that she managed the Acting Out Programme, a ground-breaking work related learning programme at The Belgrade Theatre, that has twice been held up as a model of best practice in the Government White Paper on 14-19 Education and Skills.

Lisa is passionate about working with young people and the community, understanding the power that the arts can have on transforming lives, with a particular focus on inspiring and engaging a new generation of artists, including extensive experience of engaging disadvantaged and vulnerable people in a number of different contexts, through theatre. She has acquired extensive experience as a teacher and facilitator and also works as a theatre Director and Playwright.


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Posted by CAN network on 15th February 2018.