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Margit Jensen/Helsinki City Environment Centre Picture Bank

Children learning about nature on the Harakka Island in Helsinki

Finland ranks at the top of the world in education

Helsinki adds a special touch with environmental awareness and art courses

Helsinki has been the Number One destination for educators from around the world since the turn of the millennium. In 2000, the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment, PISA, ranked the Finnish 15-yearolds best in the world in reading skills. The second assessment three years later put them second in the world in mathematics skills, and the third and latest assessment in 2006 ranked them first in scientific literacy. At age 15, Finnish school girls and boys are near the end of their compulsory education, comprised of a uniform comprehensive school system for each and every Finn. The PISA results prove the success of this system. Success has its downside. Eeva Penttilä, Head of International Relations at the City of Helsinki Education Department, says their schools are able to receive only a minority of all willing visitors, who arrive in the city on a mission to find out the secret of Finland's success. In 2008, Helsinki schools alone received 2,600 visitors. "Our visitors come here looking for one thing they could copy," Ms Penttilä explains. She points out, however, that the reasons for Finland's success in educating its children are manifold. "History and culture play powerful roles," Ms Penttilä says, emphasizing the role of women and mothers in society. Well-educated mothers bring up strong-performing children. Finland is a world-leading country in democratic rights of women and equality. International visitors to Helsinki schools cite many lessons learnt from their visits. The working philosophy at Finnish schools is "positive discrimination": the schools with the biggest challenges, including children from disadvantaged homes, are given more funds than other, better-performing schools. There is no national or municipal testing to rank schools by children's performance. Schools assess their performance according to their own, self-defined goals. Child well-being is encoded in law in Finland. "Early intervention" is integrated into daily schoolwork to identify special

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Teacher Anu Porala at the Siltamäki Elementary School in Helsinki with Kia Snellman

Photo Pirjo Mailammi/Helsinki City Picture Bank

challenges. Some 10 per cent of the pupils are within exceptional needs education, which is implemented according to an Inclusion Model ­ the pupils' needs are attended to within normal schoolwork. Pre-schools prepare an individual education plan for each child as they enter the system: the teacher works with the parents and the child to develop a plan for the child's personal needs. There are no private schools in Finland in the sense of the US and UK systems. Most schools receive public funding and follow the same, national curriculum. It is not possible to expel pupils from school except for a short period of time. The school is liable to organize teaching for the student during this period. An envy of the rest of the Western world is the Finnish school meal programme.

Mauri Tahvonen/Annantalo

"5 x 2 art" programme for schools: The City of Helsinki Cultural Office runs a miniature art academy for Helsinki school children, providing them with art classes free of charge as part of their regular school days. Every Helsinki child receives a 10-hour immersion course in visual or performing arts between the ages of 6 and 12. To many of them, this is their first and treasured encounter with art. Courses are held at Children's Art Centre Annantalo and other Helsinki cultural centres. The photos (left and above) are from Annantalo: dance and visual art classes.

International education in Helsinki Why teach hungry children? School meals.

The Finnish school meal programme has been marvelled at by TV celebrity chefs and administrators alike. Finnish school meals are not only meant to nourish and help children to maintain a good learning ability throughout the school day, but the meals are to guide them towards healthy eating habits, to teach them social skills and table manners, and to familiarize them with many types of cuisines from traditional Finnish to ethnic. The teachers eat with the children. Meals are planned and prepared according to recommendations for a healthy and balanced diet. They consist of a hot main course (meat or seafood, with a vegetarian option), a mixed green salad or other vegetable or fruit, wholesome bread with a spread, and a beverage. Fat and sodium contents are controlled. The menus cater for the needs of special and ethnic diets. Many schools today offer healthy, non- or low-sugar afternoon snacks for a small fee. Finland was the first country in the world to enact a law on school meals, and from 1948 onwards all pupils in compulsory education have been served one meal per day free of charge. Today the free-meal programme also covers students in vocational education. Many Helsinki schools, from kindergarten to upper secondary education, use English, German, French, Russian, Estonian, Chinese or Spanish as their language of instruction. The instruction is either entirely in one of these languages or bilingual with Finnish. Both nonFinns and Finns can study at these schools. Apart from The International School of Helsinki, fees range from none to some hundreds of euros per year. The International School of Helsinki offers instruction in English only. The English School is bilingual in English and Finnish, while a number of other schools offer classes in English. French is the language of instruction in Lycée franco-finlandais d'Helsinki and L'Ecole Jules Verne; the latter is operated by the French Government and follows the French curriculum. Deutsche Schule Helsinki uses German as their language of instruction. Most foreign-born children or children with a foreign background are offered instruction in their native language at Helsinki City-operated schools. Instruction is offered in about 40 languages today. Adult immigrants are offered elementary and advanced courses in Finnish at City-operated adult education institutions.

Seppo Laakso/Helsinki City Picture Bank

Meilahti Elementary School's Children's Choir performing at the Chinese New Year celebration in Helsinki in 2009

Juho Nurmi/Annantalo

(Lessons from the world's best schools)

Harakka teaches environmental awareness

Margit Jensen/Helsinki City Environment Centre Picture Bank

School children exploring nature on Harakka

The Harakka Island is an environmental treasure just a short distance away from the shores of the Kaivopuisto Park in Helsinki. The island is a rich bird nesting area and home to a tremendous variety of flora. Visitors to Harakka move on trails paved with planks and along a nature path, which is dotted with information boards. Besides offering visitors magnificent nature experiences inside the city, the Harakka Island is the base of the Nature School operated by the City of Helsinki Environment Centre. The Nature School receives school classes of 11-year-olds and takes them on adventures in nature. The children learn by exploring nature on their own. "They receive impressions, learn to make observations, and gain an understanding of an environmentally responsible way of living," says Nature School Teacher Erkki Makkonen.

Some of the children go out on expeditions in groups to study birds, keeping a log on their findings. Other groups explore the underwater nature of the Gulf of Finland, collecting samples and studying them under microscope. Classroom teaching takes place in a wooden barrack built by the Russian military in 1908 (when Finland was still part of Russia). Daycare-age children have their own school, Wellamo, where they learn about the Baltic nature through play. Visitors of all ages are offered guided nature tours on Harakka to study the riches of the island. One of the most striking features of Harakka is the wilderness-like character of the island on the seaside. The Harakka Island celebrates its 20 th anniversary as a Nature Centre this year.

Auntie Green teaches children to care for trees

Tuomas Girsen

and their role in the urban environment. She dresses up as a tree herself and invites the children to role-play the life of a tree and so identify with trees as living entities. Through this play, the children learn how trees breathe, grow and change with the seasons, and how they provide shelter to animals.

Talking trash cans

The City of Helsinki Public Works Department's other initiatives include "talking trash cans". Eight such cans served the city in summer 2009, thanking and praising people who used them, also talking to them about culture and politics. The talking trash can project, also managed by Elina Nummi, is part of a larger anti-littering campaign. Some of the content has been designed by students of a Helsinki school, as part of a campaign where students upload their anti-littering videos onto a dedicated website.

Auntie Green at Watkins Elementary School in Washington, DC

The City of Helsinki Public Works Department tackles vandalism to trees and parks through an imaginative nature awareness programme directed at pre-school age children. The Department's Elina Nummi, nicknamed Auntie Green, uses fairytale to teach children about trees

©Succession Picasso

One of the most liveable cities

Two recent studies rank Helsinki among the top most liveable cities in the world. The Monocle magazine of the UK puts Helsinki in 5th place and the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in 7 th place. Few cities besides Helsinki are among the top ten in both rankings. EIU, which is The Economist magazine's research branch, collected information from 140 major cities around the world. The study emphasized stability, healthcare, culture, environment, education, and infrastructure. The winner was Vancouver followed by Vienna, Melbourne, Toronto, Perth, Calgary and Helsinki. Monocle bases its liveability survey on soft criteria including physical and technological connectivity, tolerance, the strength of the local media, culture, and latenight eating and entertainment options. The top five cities are Zurich, Copenhagen, Tokyo, Munich and Helsinki. "It's worth noting that the top cities are not mega metropolises, but that they are medium-sized cities, located in liberal-minded countries with strong democratic traditions," comments Pekka Sauri, Deputy Mayor of Helsinki, in his video blog on the best cities of the world. "There has been a great deal of discussion about competitiveness of cities," Mr Sauri continues. "Competitiveness is a consequence. The first thing is what kind of quality of life a city can offer to its citizens."

Pablo Picasso. Paulo en Harlequin, 1924, Paris. Oil on canvas.

Helsinki to host Picasso exhibition

Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki hosts a unique, extensive exhibition of Pablo Picasso from September 18th, 2009 to January 2010. All phases of the artist's production are comprehensively presented in this exhibition, featuring some two hundred works, all from the collections of Musée National Picasso in Paris. Musée National Picasso has an exceptionally extensive collection of works by Picasso, which were transferred to the State of France from the artist's own collection following his death. The collection is especially remarkable because Picasso held on to those of his works that he thought were the most significant. The museum is under renovation, and the collection is touring several museums abroad in the meanwhile. The exhibition's tour in Helsinki is part of the art year programme of the City. The City of Helsinki is a major supporter of the exhibition. The City of Helsinki Education Department will be able to use the exhibition as part of the curriculum of 11 and 12-year-olds, with free access to classes and with associated art education programmes.

Best business environment

Finland's business environment will be the best in the world during the next five years (2009-2013) according to another report by EIU. Finland leaves behind Singapore and Hong Kong. Finland's ranking is significant against EIU's analysis of deteriorating global business, which is affecting most of the developed world. EIU bases its business report on 91 indicators, including political and macroeconomic environment, market opportunities, policy towards private enterprise and competition, policy towards foreign investment, taxes, financing, the labour market, and infrastructure.


Population: City of Helsinki 570,000, Helsinki Region 1.3 million Languages: Finnish 85%, Swedish 6%, other 9% Education: Population with a bachelor's level degree or higher 34% Educational institutions (Helsinki Region): 8 universities, 10 polytechnics, 37 vocational schools Cultural institutions (City of Helsinki in 2007): 277 opera performances, 142 symphony concerts, 14 professional theatre and dance companies with 3,320 performances, 74 museums, 50 city libraries Sports facilities: 216km of sports tracks, 29 indoor sports halls, 14 swimming halls, 8 indoor ice rinks


P.O.B. 1, Pohjoisesplanadi 11-13 00099 City of Helsinki, Finland Phone +358 9 310 1641

Helsinki News is an international newsletter published by the City of Helsinki Communications Office three times a year. Contact United States and Canada: Johanna Lemola, [email protected] United Kingdom: Jarkko Järventaus, [email protected]


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