Inside a Finnish Primary School

This column is from FinnishNews’ writer, Paulina Bouzas, originally from Mexico City, and is now studying Linguistics in Joensuu.

Imagine a classroom that does not have enough chairs or desks for the students. The teacher, a 17-year-old boy, is in charge of 40 pupils, all crammed into the same room. Some of the students are older than others; some are in 3rd grade, while others are in 6th grade. Yet, because there aren’t enough teachers, they all study in the same classroom, at the same time.  Most kids have to walk miles under the sun to get to one of those schools in the rural parts of Mexico. Not surprisingly, scores in global tests like PISA are consistently in the bottom half – to say the least.

In Joensuu, a small city in Eastern Finland, schools are a bit different. Although I knew schools in rural Mexico would be nothing like schools in the more rural areas of Finland, I was not expecting to find what I saw at the primary school located across the university campus.

As I walked into the main building I came across the library. It was a cozy, open space, divided only by colorful chairs and sofas. The floors were lit by colorful lights and at the end of the corridor a fake fireplace invited kids to read around it. One of the teachers, a kind but strict looking woman in her fifties, took us on a tour of the primary school.

Each classroom was unique and some of them even had special themes. The sitting arrangements were not only sufficient, but also varied. Children can choose to sit at regular desks, but some classrooms also offer stools, bouncy balls, and bean bags. The science classroom was unlike anything I had seen before. While it had the traditional lab tables and lab materials like microscopes, and beakers, its uniqueness lay above our heads. As the teacher dimmed the lights, the ceiling in the center of the room illuminated and showed our galaxy. Imagine being bored during the class and looking up to see stars!

“Are all schools in Finland like this one?” I asked the teacher as soon as our meeting was over.

“No”, she said, “there are much better ones”.

I left the school perplexed. What could be better than having a planetarium in the science classroom? It seemed strange to think that two babies being born on the same day at the same time but in opposite sides of the planet would one day go to school in the most contrasting conditions. As soon as I left the school I felt the need to call back home and talk about the fact that I had finally seen a real Finnish primary school up close.

“You are not going to believe what high taxation can do in a country” I told my Dad, “they have a wood workshop for 10-year-olds!”.

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