In-depth Interviews from Finland

Code Kids visited Finland during the making of the documentary to learn more about how their educational system culture incorporates technology and coding from an early age.

It’s just what an IT industry needs, especially in cold countries like Finland and Canada: a Startup Sauna. In a Finnish sauna (mercifully turned off as they’re fully clothed) David Alston and René Boudreau chat about the future of IT with local industry representatives. Finland has one of the most advanced IT industries in the world, but it still shares much in common with the Maritimes when it comes to teaching computer education in schools. Kids are still encouraged to play hockey or learn skills like woodworking. Many don’t consider learning computer code a useful pastime or future job training, even though there’s great opportunity there. Like teachers and IT entrepreneurs here, though, they’re pushing the importance of IT education so Finland will still occupy the Startup Saunas of the future.

 

The Finnish education system teaches students that learning is a game. Actually, that’s just the current focus of the Helsinki Education Department Media Centre, which coordinates IT learning in the country’s schools. They’re developing programs at all grade levels that teach the coding and design skills needed to produce video games. The centre’s breadth of activities include helping teachers integrate IT into their teaching methods. The centre helps them learn the programs and tools, and how to introduce them in the classroom using collaborative learning techniques. Finland has no immediate plans to create standalone IT courses, but they are integrating programming education into other courses in the school curriculum. After his visit, David Alston said they could call it the ”Acceleration Centre,” because it’s all about using technology to help students accelerate the process of developing and implementing great ideas.

Discussion participants:
David Alston and René Boudreau, New Brunswick delegation representatives
Ms. Satu Salonen, Helsinki City Education Department

 

It’s a fabulous idea whose time has come. Startup entreprenuers with great ideas need low-cost ways to test them out. In Finland, they have the Fablab at Aalto University in Helsinki, a place where students, instructors and the general public can use expensive equipment like lasers cutters and 3D printers to make prototypes of products designed on computers. The lab saves developers thousands of euros they may not have to bring their ideas to life. It provides not only access to equipment but also seed funding for projects initiated by instructors and students. The Fablab’s so popular it needs to expand to accommodate growing demand.

Discussion participants:
David Alston and René Boudreau, New Brunswick delegation representatives
Fablab representative
Link: mediafactory.aalto.fi/fablab/

 

This is not just a game to the IT sector in Finland. There are 180 companies in the game developing industry that provide more than 2,000 jobs. The Finnish chapter of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) is supporting the growth of the sector by introducing young people across the country to basics of video game creation. They run events called “game jams,” where girls and boys collaboratively produce games over a 48-hour period. They’re also spreading the word about the gaming industry by creating hubs in even the smallest towns and cities in the country. They believe youth need to be aware of opportunities and know they’re not alone in their interests. Even when large local players like Nokia downsize, there remain trained engineers and potential entrepreneurs to spark growth in sectors like game developing.

Discussion participants:
David Alston and René Boudreau, New Brunswick delegation representatives
IGDA representative

 

What is the road map to a growing IT economy? Maybe we should ask the teachers and students at Finnish primary schools. We visited Mustakivi Elementary School, which is using electronic tools such as tablets and online education software to teach geography. One teacher created a map game involved an imaginary trip into space. The students land on an asteroid (the school playground) and search for things using the map on the tablet. The teachers like being able to find creative, engaging ways to teach the students the basic concepts of geography and other subjects. In Finland it’s all about learning together, teachers and students. The teachers act as mentors to students but also other teachers that don’t know much about technology. They’re approaching education in collaborative and holistic manner, blending together arts and technology education in really creative ways. In one school, the students created a piece of music using different technologies, and then performed it together. They showed that learning was a symphony, not a solo act.

Discussion participants:
David Alston and René Boudreau, New Brunswick delegation representatives
Principals and various teachers from two Finnish Elementary Schools

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