Loving learning in Finland

Loving learning in Finland

I am now approaching 24hours in Helsinki and as ever the joy of soaking up a new culture, navigating a new city and meeting new people has left me happy and buzzing. Although let’s not rule out the coffee as well.


Public art on the Esplanade. But I didn’t have enough battery to test the voices.

I have yet to fully find my Fellowship feet (like sea legs but more cognitive) which got me thinking – I am scared that I will talk to someone and they will look at me with horror in their eyes and say “Oh we answered that one years ago, didn’t you do your research?”

Just to reassure everyone at the Trust, no one has said this. But even if they did, the worst that would happen would be that I would have an answer. And that might lead me to another question to think about. So why the nerves Cookie?? Why do we have this terrible fear of failure and looking stupid, when everything I am reading says to ask the obvious; naive questions provoke innovation and failure is a sure sign of learning (if it’s novel failure).

Is it because we can fail school? Does that set a course for each of us to fear raising our hands, opening our mouths and committing to an answer/opinion? Or does it go further than this?  I’m pretty sure my 6 year old shouldn’t know about failure, but to see her tears because she messed up her rainbow drawing 3 times is heartbreaking. If anyone knows the psychology behind this fear I would love to hear it.

I have also realized that for much of my working life I have been suffering from comfortable certainty (borrowed from Robert Burton), and this Fellowship is now helping me to embrace my ignorance and my fears. I was certain that I was involved in a ‘good thing’ without stopping to consider how i knew that, whether it was a good thing for all or if I could make it a better thing. I got caught up in doing the work and not thinking about it enough. In a way having children has helped, it’s a great leveler when no one has a clue how to be a parent, and being aware of conflicting theories can be a definite disadvantage. Sometimes it’s better to embrace ignorance and ask those naive questions. 

Perhaps the best quote to leave this topic on is from Churchill himself, “The trick is to go from one failure to another, with no loss of enthusiasm.”


Finland is not worrying about failure around learning, although they might be slightly concerned at slipping slightly in the PISA scores. Their new curriculum includes phenomenon based learning which sounds a lot like a science centre experience to me. Their ideas for classrooms look amazing, forget desks, think along lines of bean bags, padded benches etc, with tools from books to animation stations. They clearly have a great culture of learning where everyone has the right to a great education – and they exercise that right. Free school meals, excellent SEN facilities, teachers are one of the top professions and you can even walk into a university lecture that interests you. Maybe PISA isn’t the right way to measure this success, maybe it’s more about a happy and engaged population who feel as if school gave them the tools to be a part of and play a part in society. 

It’s not perfect here, but they appear to be working together on the problems. And that’s a success in itself.


View from the ferry as I relax and try to collect my thoughts.

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