Finnish Experience – Switching into distance learning overnight

April 30 2020 we organised an online dialogue “Finnish Experience: switching into distance learning overnight”.

We didn’t want to have an other talking head presentation which the web has been full during the lockdown. Idea was to create interactive dialogue between Finnish and Malaysian teachers of the challenges in remote learning and how to tackle them. We had almost hundred participants, so we were afraid if is going to be difficult – but the results were actually amazingly good. I think we really hit the right tone and were witnessing very active dialogue with good collegial spirit online.

How was the feedback!

I believe the chart below gives good idea how the participants felt about it. 25% responded to query of which 100% rated it as good or excellent experience. We surely did something right…

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So how did we do it?

First, we were able to find volunteer Finnish teachers to participate and share their experiences pro bono. I was a bit afraid for doing this as I knew the teachers in Finland are all overloaded. They take their job seriously and remote teaching is a new thing for them too, so they are doing long days already. Anyhow the response was surprisingly positive. Amazing people, always ready to share and help.

Secondly we sent about about thousand invitation by email and promoted this on LinkedIn and Facebook. Eventually we got 97 participant to join the event.

Actual event

We started the event with 3 Finnish teachers giving a short, about 10 minutes, presentation of their practical experiences how they switched into distance learning mode overnight when schools were closed in Finland.

–       success

–       failures

–       lessons learned 

–       what to carry on when schools are reopened 

Finnish Teachers were teaching STEAM, Languages, Math and special education mostly in secondary school. 

During presentation we were collecting questions from the audience and used most of the time for Q&A afterwards. Actually we had reserved generous half an hour for Q&A which wasn’t enough and the timing was almost doubled. 

Who was attending?

We have 213 registrations of which 97 actually participated, mostly Malaysian teachers

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Was it useful?

We asked the participants “Did you get any new ideas you can start using in your remote teaching now? If yes, what?”

  1. Allow students learning cooperatively even via online medium.
  2. Yes. Engage students of different abilities
  3. Yes . Using Microsoft team for my school , plan more activities involve the students and their parents, having short meetings with colleagues for discussions of distribution of homework during MCO (try not to burden the students)
  4. Yes, i can show my concrete examples to my students to help them understand more in Mathematics.
  5. During MCO period, most of my teaching lessons carried out in project based where students enjoy dancing, planting, drawing, story telling and others. Some of the parents complaint that all these activities got them into troubles to guide the kids. After this sharing, I know I am on the right path and have to convince the parents to change their mindset on education. 
  6. I like the idea about the weaker students staying online with the teacher to complete their homework. And that after assigning tasks, students go ‘offline’ to do them, and then come back online after a certain period of time to discuss. 
  7. I also like the idea that students all meet up in the morning during the class time. And that the teacher stays online for the day. So the students can come back online whenever they need help. I’m thinking of applying these.
  8. Send the material through the post 
  9. Yes. The distribution of homework and start recruiting teachers to work as a team. 
  10. The same project across different subjects, like English + Art that Sari used, or the somewhat play-based approach that Heini used for German (the map with cars and directions)
  11. Yes, the use of digital gadgets applications can be used to suit different classes of students.
  12. Yes, to smaller my group of students per session (especially the weaker ones in a smaller group). 
  13. Variety of platforms yet you chose to keep it minimum and consistent
  14. Yes. I am going to explore new apps in my distance teaching.
  15. I think the sharing gives the teachers the ideas and also confident in applying remote teaching.
  16. Students do assignments in groups on line. 


Instead of trying to recap all the dialogue, I think it is easiest to dig in the practicalities by listing some of the questions covered during the session:

Q:     What is the application that Finnish teachers used for remote teaching? Did you use Microsoft Teams or Google Meetup to do remote teaching?

A:     It varies. For online classroom we are using Microsoft Teams as it basically combines features of Google Meet and Google classroom. For some subject specific exercises we use tools designed specifically for that purpose. For example in language learning we use Reactored and for Mathematics Eduten.

Q:     What age group are your students?

A:     12-16

Q:     How many percent students involved in distance learning?

A:     100%. If a child is not participating distance learning and we fail to reach them, we will ask assistance from social workers to check up with the family. Usually we can solve the problem by adjusting individual exercises to fit to that particular child. As a side note: Participating teaching is compulsory by the law, so in worst cases legal action can be taken, but we have not had need to go so far.

Q:     How can we entertain pupils with different abilities?

A:     We also try to modify the exercises for each child to fit better their learning style and some may do their exercises alone without participating online classes – as long as we can see they are progressing.

Q:     How are the subjects/lessons distributed among teachers a day? Does the pupils given a standard online time table for each day?

A:     We follow the same schedule as in the classroom teaching at school

Q:     How many students are there in a class in Finland?

A:     Varies a lot depending the situation in the specific school enrollment area. Range is from special education classes of below 10 students up to 30. Average is around 20 while recommend maximum is 24. 

Q:     How long does the the lesson going on per day? Does different subjects taught in the same day? Do the students follow schedule or flexible time?

A:     We follow the same schedule as in the classroom teaching at school. However we may give more freedom for student with some specific exercises and apply more project based learning.

Q:     What recommended applications do the teachers use for learning and teaching besides google meet, kahoot?

A:     – Microsoft Teams

– Eduten Playground (math)

– Reactored (Langueges)

– Moomin Language School (English pre and primary school)

– Promentor (languages)

– Qridi

Q:     Will teachers in Finland incorporate distance learning in the future even though normal learning has resumed?

A:     Yes. We will definitely carry on some skills learned during the school closure. 

Q:     How prepared were the teachers in using online tools?

A:     That varies a lot. Some very advanced, many not. Anyhow everyone just had to start the online lessons next morning after school closure was announced. Everyone had long evenings to prepare the lessons for the first days. They managed to do it mostly by peer to peer help from colleagues. Tacehrs were calling each others in the evening to ask for advice, tips and sharing experiences. 

Q:     Does the school or the education department emphasis on certain tool/s Or the teachers have the autonomy to pick their educational tools?

A:     Yes and no. As schools are funded by municipalities also IT infrastructure is under municipality IT department. Anyhow schools and teachers have freedom to choose whatever tools they find suitable for current need. Those tools have to fulfill certain privacy and data security requirements.

Q:     Is coding (programming languages) mandatory in Finnish K-12 curriculum ? 

A:     Coding is part of the national curriculum focusing on computational thinking and problem solving skills, high level understanding in programming principles and artificial intelligence. Anyhow not any specific programming language is part of the curriculum.

Q:     How many months or years it takes for one to master the basics of coding? 

A:     Depends of the individual’s personal interest. Best programmers do practice the skills on free time. There is not any specific answer to the question.

Q:     In the teaching of coding subject, are all students provided with a PC, laptop or tablet?

A:     All schools have number of laptops and/or computers as shared resource.

Q:      How about those students who do not have the internet to learn online? What are the alternative solutions for them?

A:     Basically the coverage among school age children families is 100%.

Q:     How do we ensure that the students are able to be fully engaged with the teaching?

A:     Having dialogue with children, using online classroom, exercises and digital tools to follow up the progress. Teachers are contacting personally every child they are teaching. 

Q:     Finland is known here for “No Homework” how far of this is true & I want to know more detail.

A:     This basically a misunderstanding. Finnish schools have homework, though it might be less and in different form than other schools. 

Q:     How about the interference of tuition centres in Finland?

A:     Tuition centers does not exist in Finland

Q:     What is your opinion about the virtual learning since the environment of students & teachers are not well prepared here.

A:     Required skills can be learnt. Most important is to start from something and carry on improving on the way.

Q:     What are the challenges as a teacher you face during these distance learning? How you overcome it?

Q:     How about the children’s online safety? Is there any online learning ethics or guidance? 

A:     That is part of Finnish national curriculum and integrated in all subjects. Children are also taught how to search information online and how to verify the information in differentiate fake news, recognize social media misinformation campaigns etc.

Q:     How about the supportive from the parents?

Q:     Are there summer schools in Finland (June-August) or everyone are on holidays, private family time?

A:     All are on holiday. 

Q:     Could you give an example on how teachers collaborate with each other to conduct the Distance learning classroom? For example, Art teachers and Math teachers.

A:     There are several ways to implement it. This Helsinki University publication provides both scientific approach as well practical examples which you can modify to fit your own needs:

How likely would you participate similar event again?

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We will definitely have something like this in the future. Follow me for updates!