GSE Fulbright Scholar facilitates Finland partnership

TempleGSE professor Jackie Temple traveled to University of Jyväskylä, (UJ), in Finland last April as a Fulbright Specialist to assist the education faculty in strengthening their work around her specialty–inclusion.

Dr. Jacqueline Temple is a GSE professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, and a prior Fulbright Scholar. Her first Fulbright experience was also to UJ in 2001-02, where she lectured and conducted research. She has since traveled to Finland many times. Her extensive work in inclusive education and leadership has earned her the title of “Fulbright Specialist.” Placement on this roster makes her qualified to serve as a grant-funded scholar who is available, upon request, to consult for Fulbright grant-funded projects.

Finland’s education system is known to be one of the best in the world. In the 1970s, the country began a reform effort that has resulted in students scoring near the top of the PISA* in reading and math, well above American students, who, despite constant testing and program revisions, continue to hover around the middle.

With this phenomenal success, why would an education department at a Finland university require help from an American education professor?

While Finland’s population was historically homogeneous, much has changed since their break from the Soviet System. Finland is facing new challenges as immigrants from Somalia, Iraq, Russia, Bangladesh, Estonia, Ethiopia and other countries enter and settle in the country.

UJ, with several hundred students studying special education, was interested in finding an expert in the field of international inclusion. They were interested in further curriculum development and pedagogy around inclusion and in a better understanding of the impact of new languages and cultures in their classrooms. They applied for and received approval for a six-week grant-funded Fulbright Specialist project to bring Dr. Temple to their campus to co-lecture in a master’s level course in inclusive education and conduct a seminar on Advanced Research in Inclusive and Special Education. She also worked with PhD students on international inclusive education issues.

Dr. Temple provided insight into the social and cultural implications for children and helped teacher education students consider what “different” really means in an individual classroom. “Dr. Temple is a well-known scholar in the area of inclusive leadership, and her expertise would be relevant for the students, as well as for faculty,” said Kira Mills, program officer, Fulbright Specialists Program.

Students in most Finnish schools are mainstreamed with the idea that the strong ones will help those who are struggling. Teachers have a philosophy for helping students: “whatever it takes.” They are afforded latitude in their instructional methods and creation of environments that produce success for each and every student.

Building bridges from Finland to Portland Public Schools
Finland partnership
Dr. Temple returned from her latest sojourn with new enthusiasm and additional connections to her colleagues in Finland. She was joined in Portland by Riita Dove, a teacher from Tähtiniitty Koulu, a school in Espoo, Finland, who wanted to visit an American school. Dr. Temple connected her to Eva Swan at Rosa Parks Elementary School in Portland, and thus began a new Writing Pals partnership between the faculty and students at the two schools.

Both Rosa Parks Elementary and Tähtiniitty Koulu schools have one thing in common: an assortment of international students who speak a number of languages. The fourth grade American students write letters in English to their Finnish pen pals. Finn students, who will study in English only from fifth grade on, return letters in both English and Finnish. Both schools study vocabulary, sentence structure, pronunciation and grammar. The Rosa Parks students also get language instruction twice per month from Suomi-koulu—the Portland Finnish School in nearby North Portland.

“The English-Finnish program has been a great adventure for my classes,” said Emma Ford, a third grade teacher at Rosa Parks. “They have loved the letter exchange. A lot of information, language, and goodwill have been exchanged between the two schools. My students have learned about weather, holidays, games, and norms of school children in a faraway land they may only touch through these letters.”

The students on both sides of the Atlantic are enthused and anxious to learn more about each other. Teachers and administrators are investigating ways to link up, and future projects may include a Skype event or FaceTime, if they can figure out a way to accommodate time zones.

Education in Finland Finland‘s free education system begins at age seven and continues through age 16, when the only test taken determines whether they go to a university or technical school. Finnish schools provide free health care, food, school transportation, and preschool. Students learn English and at least one additional language other than their own. Primary school class sizes are small, averaging 20 students and the graduation rate is around 99%. All Finland’s teachers hold master’s degrees and have salaries on par with doctors and lawyers. Special education teachers earn slightly more.

Education in Finland
Finland‘s free education system begins at age seven and continues through age 16, when the only test taken determines whether they go to a university or technical school. Finnish schools provide free health care, food, school transportation, and preschool. Students learn English and at least one additional language other than their own. Primary school class sizes are small, averaging 20 students and the graduation rate is around 99%. All Finland’s teachers hold master’s degrees and have salaries on par with doctors and lawyers. Special education teachers earn slightly more.

* Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a test administered to 15-year-olds in 70 countries every three years by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

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