Principal Eija Valanne gives an exclusive interview to The Edition about Finnish educational philosophy, her aspirations for the school and its future students.
It would seem that EduConnect, the local company overseeing the operation of Finland International School Maldives, made an apt decision when they handed the reigns to Dr Eija Valanne, a renowned educator with 23 years of experience in the exemplary Finnish education system under her belt.
Valanne, who holds a Doctor of Philosophy (Education) revealed that she was adjusting well to Maldives. “I am almost a citizen now”, she remarked jokingly.
Despite only having spent three short weeks in the country, the educator notes that she feels welcome within Maldivian society.
Being a passionate advocate for child-centred learning, this factor will further fuel Valanne's endeavours to ensure the success of Finland International School in the upcoming year.
The Edition asked Valanne what she believed her biggest challenge would be after assuming the role of principal. After a moment of contemplation, Valanne responded that it would take time to earn the confidence of students and parents alike, considering the fact that Finnish teaching methods are strikingly different from conventional approaches taken in Maldives.
The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) consistently rates Finnish students above their counterparts in other countries. These rankings bear well for Finland International School Maldives, the first school of its kind in Asia.
This is also a vote of confidence for Valanne, who had served for 12 years as the Administrative Principal of the Teaching Training School at the University of Lapland, Finland.
'Open learning environments’ which promote interactive learning are a key part of the school's approach. Under this method, a team of teachers will carry out lessons for a single classroom by flexibly dividing students into groups on the basis of their needs.
The cross-curricular approach is another key factor in the school's methods. Students will be taught how to apply knowledge, principles and theories to several academic disciplines at the same time. This prompts children to apply school-learned facts to real-life situations.
In addition to these striking changes, Finland International School Maldives will also introduce extra free periods in addition to lunch break. The free activity breaks are intended to give the students much needed refreshment through the course of their day.
Speaking to The Edition about various issues faced by educators in the region, Valanne highlighted a key problem in several Asian education systems that also applies to Maldives; that is, the achievement of high marks being given greater priority than the act of learning.
While she believes high achievers should be recognised, Valanne expressed the importance of schools celebrating each and every student that demonstrates notable progress. As such, she is not too keen on following the tradition of awarding a 'top ten’ selection - a practice typically followed by all Maldivian schools.
In another perhaps controversial key point, Valanne affirmed that she did not support private tutoring, adding that many Maldivian parents in particular feel forced to provide private instruction as result of the pressure exerted on students to attain perfect scores.
Emphasising on the need for a balance between work and play, she exclaimed, “Young children should also be allowed to play!”
Valanne described the culture of tuition prevalent in Maldives as a frequent obstacle to the development of this important aspect of young children’s lives.
Finland International School Maldives aims to cater to the needs of every individual that passes through its doors. Teachers are given considerable independence in lesson planning so that class teachers can focus on subjects or lessons their respective students may find difficult. In this way, Valanne highlighted that teachers may even provide extra one-on-one classes to help struggling students.
Individual skills such as a knack for art or creative writing will also be encouraged and nurtured as part of the curriculum. In addition to arts and crafts lessons, individual talents will also be a part of cross-curricular projects.
Valanne confided in The Edition that the decision to leave her native country was a difficult one. Despite this, she spoke warmly of her experiences in Al Raqiah school of Abu Dhabi where she had served as the principal for a six-year period.
Revealing that her time in the Middle East opened her eyes to Muslim culture, she added that she sees it becoming an asset when working in a 100 percent Muslim country that incorporates several Islamic teachings into its curriculum.
According to Valanne, it is impossible to implement a foreign curriculum without localising it. To that effect, her research into adopting and implementing the Finnish education approach outside of Finland has been published by the International Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences.
EduConnect is currently carrying out training for local teachers who are to be employed at Finland International School Maldives during the next academic year. Valanne happily noted that their teachers were “excited and motivated” and had provided overwhelmingly positive feedback.
Valanne views teachers as playing a crucial role in the success of any education system.
“Be proud because you have the greatest impact on the world, it’s a beautiful job,” are the words of experience and wisdom she wishes to bestow on Maldivian teachers reading this interview.
“All teachers should take pride in the work they do.”
Across social media and other community platforms, several parents, students and teachers eagerly anticipate the opening of Finland International School Maldives, hoping to witness, experience and contribute to what it expects to be a new beacon of hope in the field of education.
“It is beautiful to do something that can benefit a lot of people”, said Dr Eija Valanne of her expectations for the upcoming academic year, her features lighting up with a genuine smile.
“I look forward to what we can achieve together."