Partnership’s success relies on leadership

December 5, 2011

ATA Magazine Interview

The Finland–Alberta partnership is unique in many respects. A significant feature of the partnership is the leadership and support it receives from three different levels: education ministries, school systems and schools. From the beginning, the Finnish education ministry has taken a hands-on approach to the partnership, including the involvement of Sakari Karjalainen, director general, department of education and science policy, ministry of education and culture Finland.

In March 2011, Karjalainen spent a week visiting Alberta schools and participating in the Alberta Teachers’ Association’s symposium “Educational Futures—International Perspectives on Innovation from the Inside Out” that formally launched the partnership.

In a follow-up meeting in Helsinki, Finland, Alberta representatives met with Finnish education officials and teachers to develop further the partnership. During an interview with J-C Couture, ATA associate coordinator of research, Karjalainen gave his perspectives on the importance of leadership at all levels to support the partnership’s work.

ATA Magazine: What do Finnish educators hope to achieve by working with Alberta schools?

Karjalainen: Learning from each other is the basis of progress. This is especially true for education and learning. Education systems differ from each other based on values, traditions and fundamental structures of societies. The challenge for all education systems is to support the personal growth of a child to adulthood, to let her learn all the fundamental knowledge and skills needed in life and to guide her to respect other people and to live in peace with them. The Alberta schools and their teaching staff succeed well in all these dimensions. I think we have much to learn.

ATA Magazine: What are the strengths of Alberta’s schools and teachers? 

Karjalainen: Already my first visit to an Albertan school showed me there is much we can learn from your schools, staff and students. School safety is organized in an elegant and supportable way. It is an integrated part of the normal school work. You do not see massive security arrangements because safety is based on fundamental principles that everyone learns when joining the school as a student or a staff member. Teachers respect their students and their own mission as teachers.

ATA Magazine: What are the main lessons you have learned from the partnership?

Karjalainen: The first lesson is that we can learn from each other. The second lesson is that to learn effectively we need exactly this kind of collaboration. We do not learn much at the system level if we do not study practices at the school level. We have to create close contacts between teachers and administrators at school level.

ATA Magazine: What is a good school and how would the Finns respond to this question?

Karjalainen: It’s a timely question in Finland and in other countries. Like Alberta, Finland has excelled in many international evaluations and studies in the field of education. The problem is that success can mask underlying problems that we do not diagnose early enough. Obviously, we need to know more. We have to put more emphasis on educational research. Finland is undertaking a minor reform of the core curriculum of compulsory education. The upper-secondary-level general education will also be reformed in the coming years. The role that information computer technology plays in the pedagogy has been a subject of discussion. The Finnish answer, in principle, is that pedagogy must come first.

ATA Magazine: How has your understanding of a good school changed your involvement in the partnership?

Karjalainen: A good school refers to respect and caring. Alberta schools follow the true meaning of the principle “no young person left behind.” In Alberta, schools take good care of their students.

ATA Magazine: What role does the partnership have in the transformation of teaching, learning and management of change in schools?

Karjalainen: I assume the partnership will have an impact on the development of education and learning in both countries. It’s important that both jurisdictions’ ministers of education and their governments’ cabinets follow the project and participate in it personally.