View from here - Finns ship teachers to Arab state

6th August 2010 at 01:00
University in Finland boosts its coffers by exporting world-class teaching techniques to Abu Dhabi. Ed Dutton reports

England is not the only country keeping a watch on Finland's world-leading education system. The government of Abu Dhabi is so impressed it has decided to import 30 Finnish teachers to help overhaul its schools' teaching techniques.

The plan is being funded by the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC), which was established in 2005 by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi's emir and president of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The council's sole aim is to try to improve the country's education system, in particular through foreign co-operation.

The 30 Finnish teachers and two heads will mentor school staff in Abu Dhabi to help them teach in a more "Finnish" way. The council is keen to move away from rote-learning and towards adopting some of the "pedagogical, child-centred methods" widely taught to Finnish trainee teachers.

"The Finnish curriculum and method of teaching is recognised internationally as developing well-rounded and innovative students," explained the director-general of ADEC, Dr Mugheer Al Khaili.

"In addition, Finland has received top scores in the Pisa (programme for international student assessment), a system that assesses student's literacy capabilities in reading, mathematics and science - this accomplishment is a testament to Finland's position as a world leader in education."

The export might not have come about if there had not been recent, sweeping reforms to higher education in Finland. Following radical changes at the beginning of the year, the country's universities have been forced to look to business, instead of just the state, for their funding and they have been permitted to offer English language-medium Masters courses to fee-paying students from outside the EU.

Jyvaskyla University, situated in central Finland, about 230km north of Helsinki, was originally established in 1863 as a teacher training college. It is using a company called EduCluster in attempts to internationalise and gain external funding. The export of teachers is part of this venture.

Elise Tarvainen, co-ordinator of the project, said: "The Finnish teachers will be living and working together with the Abu Dhabi teachers as part of the school community. They will learn about the local culture while helping with professional development. The Abu Dhabi teachers will also be able to study for a Masters in Education offered by the university. This is all funded by ADEC."

Like other Middle Eastern countries including Qatar, Abu Dhabi, the second largest of the Emirates, is keen to establish itself as a world-leading country for education.

But what do the Finnish teachers think about the plan? The contract with the Abu Dhabi government blocks the teachers from giving any press interviews without permission from ADEC. So far, requests from The TES have gone unanswered.

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