Bangkok city schools tap into Finnish educational knowhow

Education experts from Finland, one of the world’s educational powerhouses, showed up in force at Educa 2014, Thailand’s premier international education forum, attended by some 50,000 members of the teaching profession and education administrators, on October 15-17 in Bangkok.

In photo, Finnish Ambassador to Thailand Kirsti Westphalen (fifth from left), attends Educa 2014 along with education experts from Finland. Photo courtesy of Embassy of Finland.

Conference-goers were informed that Thailand had already tapped into Finland’s educational knowhow and learning solutions. Two Thai teams, one consisting of math/science teachers and another made up of administrators of middle schools run by the Bangkok city government, have already undergone a series of training/workshops led by Finnish experts in Bangkok and at Oulu University Teacher Training School and in Helsinki in Finland.

“There is willingness to acknowledge problems that need to be solved [in Thailand’s education system]. We believe Finland is best for Thailand,” said Finnish Ambassador to Thailand Kirsti Westphalen.

The ambassador said Finland, with its successful education system, had much to offer at a time Thailand is embarking on a drastic education reform to try to improve teaching standards, learning competency and international competitiveness.

Since 2001, Finland has consistently been placed at the top or near top of the list of countries that perform exceptionally well in the world’s rankings based on Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

The envoy said she started discussing with Deputy Bangkok Governor Pusadee Tamthai about possible cooperation on education between Finland and Thailand six months ago. The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration’s school system provides education to 300,000 students from kindergarten to high school levels, and is staffed by 15,000 teachers.

“Step by step we discussed how to take cooperation further,” she said. The Finnish Embassy and Finpro, the Finnish trade promotion agency, have worked closely to match up Finnish universities, educational institutions and private companies with their Thai counterparts.

The Finnish envoy said she would take a further step to discuss with Thailand’s Education Ministry about the possibility of expanding the cooperation to all parts of the country, possibly starting with several pilot projects.

Westphalen said educational knowhow and learning solutions are a growing business with good potential as export from Finland.

“We had made constant improvements in education for the past 20 years or so, and in the past 10 years we have had excellent education results,” she said. “Seeing that many countries around the world are struggling with the same problems that we were dealing with in the 1960s.”

The ambassador acknowledged that exporting education is not easy as one cannot transfer or implant educational model directly on another country.

“You can’t take Finnish model and put it in, for example, the US or Thailand or Russia. Because everything [about education] is so culturally tied in. Every country is different,” she said. “But there are certain areas, and this is backed up by international studies, that when you do very well in areas, such as teacher training, in which Finland focuses its attention and which bring consistent good results. Then why not look at what Finland has to offer?”

Pasi Kaskinen, CEO of Finland University, a joint venture of three top-level Finnish research universities, University of Turku, University of Tampere and University of Eastern Finland, said the Finnish educational model focuses on competencies and equality, which over long term has proven to produce more creativity and help the country compete more successfully in the fast-changing world.

“We provide our client organisations with educational solutions based on world-class scientific research. Finland University is capable of tailoring programmes and courses, including teacher training, to suit client’s professional development needs, offering education and training on campus, online or in the workplace.

“Thailand is a country that is still seeking harmony in [education management strategy]. You look at Finland, Singapore and other more successful countries,” he said.

“The ongoing cooperation with the BMA, with 15,000 teachers, is a good start. In order to effectively reform the educational system, Thailand needs critical mass and decision makers who understand the problems.”

Finnish model concentrates on competencies and lifelong learning, he said, adding that in the long run, such approach produces more creativity and enhances global competitiveness. “Some countries are doing well at individual student level but at the country level you have exclusive top schools for rich people. It’s better to create equality. If more of people are doing well, the country as a whole will do better,” Kaskinen said.

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