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Phenomenon-based Learning in the Finnish Education System

What is ‘Phenomenon-based Learning’ and are the Finns reforming an already-successful system of education delivery?

Can creativity be taught? According to Paul Plsek, there are “models to guide creativity and innovation”. The education system is structured around those who are creative and innovative, and those who are not. Those who are considered good at art, music, and dance are considered to be ‘creative’ and those who excel in math and the sciences are considered ‘intelligent’.  Rarely are the two disciplines taught side by side.  If, however, the two were allowed to coexist at par, unburdened by preconceived notions of their value as certain kinds of disciplines appealing to a pre-identified set of student aptitudes and interests, collectively their instruction could be used effectively as a model to guide creativity and innovation in education.  Clearly, some students are good at conceiving or initiating an idea, others at articulating it, and still others at delivering the final touch.  Some students are more creative when they work alone, others moreso in small groups.  Educators should nurture inherent talent and work styles, meeting students where they are rather than discouraging their ability to create ideas.  Educators should never discourage student attempts to explore talent or an interest – or suggest that they are not good enough at, or not suited to, a task.  Students should be given rein to explore the application of their talents across the disciplines.  In this way, student creativity and innovation may flourish.

Phenomenon-based learning is an integrated approach to education that groups some academic disciplines and teaches them all at once.  It is intended to show how classical education works in the real world: As disciplines that relate to one another.  It is custom-designed to prepare young Finns to succeed in the working world of the 21st century.  In Finland, economics, literature, geography, and more are soon to be ditched in favor of topical looks at particular challenges or phenomena: The European Union, for instance, or global climate change, or food insecurity and what to do about it.  Each discipline, the thinking goes, contributes insight and perspective to the solving of the problem, the meeting of the challenge.  Over and over in July 2015, we learned during meetings and interviews with educators and ed.-policy experts, parents, students, and other stakeholders, this approach builds on the long-time Finnish sensibility that education is and should be to help children pursue their passions and ‘make a happy life’.  Once again, the Finns seem poised to lead us all as we grapple with the purpose of education in a new century.

Recently I traveled to Finland with a group of US educators. Our group met Pasi Silander, Development Manager, Helsinki City Department of Education.

I asked Dr. Silander, “What do you think creativity is?  What do you think innovation is?  Is there a difference?”