Vietnam News spoke with Finland’s Ambassador to Vietnam, Pekka Hyvonen, on the occasion of his country’s National Day.
As Vietnam and Finland commemorate the 35th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties, what do you think is the most important aspect of co-operation between the two countries over the last three and a half decades?
After 35 years of diplomatic relations, and 34 years and US$400 million of development co-operation, we are now turning towards developing our economic and trade relations. Co-operation between our businesses and increasing investments are the most important features in our future co-operation. Vietnam needs to continue on the administrative reform path to attract new companies and business ventures. Vietnam’s fall in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2009 list shows that the country needs further efforts to improve its investment climate and business confidence. This is of particular importance in the current economic situation.
Our two countries share similar socio-economic development experiences. We may remember that after the Second World War, Finland was one of the poorest nations in Europe. The way Finland has moved from an agriculture and forestry-based economy to the information-based one we see today has been a real success story. We are happy to share our experiences with Vietnam and we will give our full support to the formulation of the Socio-Economic Strategy 2011-2020.
I believe that Vietnam has all the potential needed to transform from an agricultural economy to an industrialised nation and a knowledge-based economy. When I follow, discuss and meet with the young business community in Vietnam, I am always stunned by the innovative business culture. Let us take the compulsory helmet wearing (when driving a motorcycle) as an example. Suddenly the market was full of innovative designs and styles – what a clever way to turn a potentially negative obligation into a positive opportunity.
The first group of Vietnamese workers arrived in Finland recently under a pilot programme for Vietnamese labourers to work in the country. What type of jobs will be attractive for foreign workers in Finland? Do you have any advice for workers before their departure?
There is a Vietnamese community of over 5,000 in Finland who are perhaps the best integrated foreign community in Finland. This is a good basis to build upon labour-based migration. And this is indeed the core idea; no short-term labour contracts with suspicious conditions, but long-term migration where workers’ rights are respected. We are right at the beginning of this process and we need to establish good practices on how to proceed. The southern Ostrobothnia region in Finland has very successfully set up labour co-operation for instance with the city of Ha Noi. We have to create win-win solutions where the supply meets the demand in a sustainable way.
The tourism market is definitely an area for future expansion. There are only 5.3 million people living in Finland but every year over 1 million Finnish tourists travel abroad. Each year when the winter darkness covers Finland between December and mid-March, some 150,000 Finns travel to Thailand in search of sun and warmth.
Today tour operators are trying to find safer markets. In this regard Vietnam will play an ever increasing role. However, the tourism industry is quite new in Vietnam and the standards and level of services need to be upgraded to higher hospitality levels. The country is on the right track and I am confident that more and more Finnish tourists will discover the nature and charm of Vietnam. The visa-exemption is of course a significant booster for free travel and I think the exemption of all Nordic countries from visas for 15-day visits was a show of good partnership with these countries.
Finland has often been hailed as having one of the most successful education systems. What do you think are the criteria in Finland that have created the success? And what makes it different?
There are many different factors to this but I try to pick out the most important findings from the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) surveys by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
The differences between the strongest and the weakest results in Finland are among the smallest in the survey. Differences between schools and regions are also remarkably small in Finland. Differences in performance were very slight between various language groups in the country, and the socio-economic background has a lower impact on students’ performance in Finland than in other countries.
The Finnish education system offers everybody equal opportunities for education, irrespective of domicile, sex, economic situation or linguistic and cultural background. The school network is regionally extensive, and there are no sex-specific school services. Basic education is completely free of charge (including instruction, school materials, school meals, health care, dental care, commuting, and special needs education).
Basic education spans for nine years and caters to those between 7 and 16 years of age. Schools do not select their students and every student can go to the school in his or her own school district. Students are neither channelled nor streamed to different schools.
At all school levels teachers are highly qualified and committed. Teachers are required to have a Master’s level degree, and there is also a practical aspect as part of the teacher qualification process. Because teaching is a very popular profession in Finland, universities can select the most motivated and talented applicants. Teachers work independently and have strong autonomy towards their work.
The evaluation of learning outcomes is encouraging and supportive by nature. The aim is to produce information that helps both schools and students develop. There is no national testing of learning outcomes, school ranking lists or inspection systems.
The education system is flexible and the administration is strongly based on delegation and support. Municipalities are responsible for the organisation of education and the implementation of the aims. Schools and teachers have a lot of independence in the provision and content of curriculum.
The organisation of schoolwork and education is based on a conception of learning that focuses on students’ activity and interaction with the teacher, other students and the learning environment.
Finnish society strongly favours education and the population is highly educated by international standards. Education is appreciated and there is a broad political consensus on education policy.
Your embassy has been officially recognised as a “green office.” Why do you think this is important to you and your colleagues and how have you achieved this?
We are living in a world where environmental concerns are increasingly becoming questions of survival. Climate change is the latest threat to our life. It is high time to start taking action at all levels, including governmental, company and individual.
Our embassy team started to think ways to make an impact and we found many areas where we could make savings. We save hard money by consuming less and by thinking about how to do it. This is also very much a personal issue; I don’t think we can just criticise others and our governments.
We should also go green as individuals, especially those of us who consume the most. It is a personal choice whether you buy a car with V-8 or a small engine, whether you run the engine all the time to keep the interior cool, whether you use a bike sometimes, whether you use your own canvas bag instead of plastic bags and so on.