School environment makes all the difference – Maarit Rossi

Maarit Rossi
Identifying, assessing and imbibing best practices of schools in different countries shouldn’t be hampered by language barriers. Keen observation is the key

When teachers from the UK came to observe Finnish schools, we were confused. How people who don’t even understand the Finnish language can make an objective assessment of Finnish schools? That is what I thought as a young teacher almost thirty years ago. Now I feel that I was wrong! When I later visited Finnish schools I could make a lot of observation only by walking and looking around the school. I could observe what kind of relations were between students and teachers. Were the students respected? Was school more a working place for teachers than learning the place for students? Are the rules only prohibitions or are they commonly agreed on ways of acting in school? School environment makes all the difference

I really believe that the atmosphere influences the success of school and students. I have had an opportunity to visit many schools and train a lot of teachers around the world. Teachers and students have really very different circumstances to learn and work. Societies have a different kind of opinions about learning! You can make a lot of observations only by walking in any school and doing observations.

There are schools with traditional rows of desks and chalkboard-centered classrooms. The teacher is in front of the classroom using the teaching method where students are repeating her/his speech. There are only a few students raising their hand to the teacher’s question. Repeating and copying seem to be the most used teaching method. Because of the size of the classroom, it is also very demanding to use personalized methods. Visit the Physics and Chemistry Laboratory classes shows the lack of materials and chemicals. The teacher can sometimes demonstrate in front of the classroom but students hardly ever can do laboratory work themselves. There can be even 200 students in a Math class and we are not talking about university lessons, we are in the middle school classroom! In the same school, there can be only a few Math teachers, that is the reason for the number of students in the classroom. For me, it was difficult to understand that teachers got the same salary even in spite of having a different amount of lessons in a week!

On the other end of the line are schools that have open learning spaces, focused on 21st-century competencies – e.g. digital, media, global and entrepreneurial skills are included in the curriculum. Schools’ architectures look very different from the previous, traditional school buildings. The traditional school building had corridors, where classrooms are situated in rows on both sides. Modern schools have a lot of open area, where open learning spaces enhance the opportunities for group discussions, collaborative project learning, and individual student training. Most importantly, the teacher works more as a mentor, rather than purely as an instructor. Schools see teaching more as a learning possibility for students than transferring the knowledge of the traditional subjects. They teach in a way that is engaging, educating people who can live, thrive and cope with the challenges of the rapidly changing world. Students are active in their own learning in open learning spaces. For example, there will be whole weeks where the students just work on projects. Teachers organize learning in collaboration with companies, institutions, and other schools not only in their own country but also in schools around the world. Schools are open to being a part of the global village.


In some societies, students are put to compete with each other. The education system includes a lot of exams and tests. To get to the next level you need to pass the test with high points. In one country I got information that only 12% of girls and 20% of boys passed the high school Math test. If the population is high, this may be the way to find the best individuals to continue to high school. But if the population is not high, I think society is losing the best individuals who can develop society and its economy.

Teachers get the same salary in spite of having a different amount of lessons in a week

The successful society takes care of every student. Education system supports every student. If a student has learning, behavioral or social problem, there are professionals who help students. Education is all the time looking for research on learning to find the best solutions. Tests don’t separate students but they support their learning.

What conclusions did you make about your school and education system? School environment makes all the difference School environment makes all the difference School environment makes all the difference 

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