A fine time in Finland

Just back from an amazing trip to Finland.  I was there to take part in a three day clarinet festival that was centred around my music.  Quite a humbling situation in which to find myself!  I gave lots of lessons, a short recital, some masterclasses, a talk and some general coaching. I also wanted to learn as much as I could about their education system - internationally regarded as one of (maybe the) best in the world.   What I found was really fascinating. 



The school system is virtually the polar opposite to what we find in the UK (and many other countries).   Children attend school from 7 - 15.. then they choose either to go to high school, which prepares them for university or music conservatoire, or go to a vocational college which teaches them virtually anything else.  The school day runs from 8 - midday - then they are free to go to music school (one in every town), develop their interests, do sport or hang out with friends... There are few 'national' exams to have to worry about,  just three in fact - Finnish, English and Maths, which they take at age 15.  There is no (or very little) homework set, there is no school uniform. Parents can visit whenever they like - to sit in on lessons or talk to teachers. You can enter a school without having to sign forms, wear a badge or have your picture taken. There are no hierarchical systems in place - there is a head and a deputy head in each school, but no heads of year group or heads of anything else.  There are just teachers - who are very well trained (typically 7 years)  - who teach and enjoy teaching, and there are pupils who enjoy learning.  They speak 3 or 4 languages fluently by the age of 15 for example, and are much more than adequately educated in a host of other subjects.  There are no good or bad schools - they are all the same.  If you move to a new area the question,''Which is the best school around here?" would never enter anyone's mind. 

The wonderful thing about all this is that there is virtually no stress.  Teachers like teaching and pupils like learning.  Extraordinary!

All the young clarinettists I met (and I met about 70!) were enthusiastic, well taught and deeply engaged.  I met many music teachers too - they were equally so.   The prevailing teaching approach is probably rooted in more traditional ways - I gave an introductory talk on Simultaneous Learning and (as in China) it generated a considerable amount of interest. I think they were particularly interested by the positive nature of always setting up sequential do-able tasks and making pertinent connections that the students could immediately understand and process. 

Here's a performance by the clarinet orchestra from the Tampere Music school (where I and the Festival were based) playing the first movement of my 'Colours' for clarinet ensemble: