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A DYNAMIC group of eight passionate professionals, members of the newly formed Education Reform Team, ERT, set out from Nigeria and the United Kingdom in April 2012 on a five-day learning journey to Finland.

One of them returned in less than three weeks with another group of five government officials from Cross River State, a state at the fore-front of change in Nigeria.  Two learning journeys to the same country in three weeks.  You may be wondering why?

The reason – their education system works. The ERT visited Finland to witness this exceptional education that continuously puts Finland ahead of many nations in the global economy.

All children have the right to learn in a qualitative environment and in a manner that works best for them.  Finland has developed the best education system in the world by committing to certain key values: ‘equity’, ‘quality’, ‘efficiency’ and, one of our favourites, ‘no dead-ends.’

Their system gives equal opportunity to every child and adult to develop his or her potential and to become all he/she was destined to be. Now, their students are the world’s top performers in the international comparison exam, Programme for International Student Assessment, PISA, 2000 and 2009.

The ERT’s Five-Day learning journey delivered by EduCluster Finland Limited was a learning experience with a difference. It was exceptional. You felt the heart of the nation – the love for life-long learning; the professionalism and passion of the teachers; the excellent content of the curriculum; the unique delivery of guidance and counselling in schools; the excellent management of schools by school leadership and the joy in the classroom of the children who thrive in a child-centred environment. Theirs is not teaching in the 19th and 20th century – it is learning. At the centre is the child, the young adult, the matured adult – the learner.

Folasade Adefisayo, a member of the ERT, reflecting on the journey, said: “For me, the Finnish experience was a paradigm-changing and epochal event in my life. I am not using hyperboles for the sake of using these words but I need to explain myself. Before I went to Finland, I was of the school that believed in testing and rewarding teachers according to the performance of their students.

I have done a 360 degree turnaround. I still believe that testing is essential but I believe that we should do more formative rather than summative (exams and end of period tests). Formative assessments would involve the quality of the teacher-student interaction made evident in the questions asked by both, reflection on learning and progress, team work and collaboration and a general belief in equity and the right of every child to receive a good education.

I still believe that we really need to train and re-skill our teachers. The content of their training will now be key.”

Bolaji Osime aptly described what we saw as “an extraordinary and innovative educational system”. While Professor Owan-Enoh from Cross River State observed that “Finland is the first country I have come across that has turned all the theories I have learnt into reality.”

So, what did we learn about teacher education that was so impactful?

Coming from a country where teachers are not highly regarded or adequately motivated and rewarded there are some very key qualities of the teachers in Finland that immediately strike you as unique.

Firstly, the undeniable desire and passion for well-qualified, intelligent people to be teachers (it’s the number one profession in Finland) rather than doctors or lawyers.

Secondly, the competition for places is stiff with Jyvaskyla University having over 2,800 applications for 80 places.

This is the complete reverse for Nigeria where several colleges of education do not have enough applications from interested students and many come into education as a last resort because they could not get onto any other course.

In Finland, teachers have strong academic qualifications with the minimum qualification being a Masters degree (except at the early childhood level). In Nigeria, it is the National Certificate of Education, NCE, which is lower than a first degree. There is a lot more but that’s part of the learning experience.

Incubator Africa Limited, a development agency, and the ERT in partnership with Educluster Finland are boldly taking the unique step of bringing to Nigeria for the first time Finnish education experts.

Educluster Finland is the leading education consortium in Finland, specialising in education and development. Their experts will demonstrate the practical steps that we must take in Nigeria if we intend to fix our educational system and significantly enhance learning outcomes in the classroom.

Nigeria has a great opportunity to grasp the future and emerge as a strong leader in Africa. The key to success and to turning around our country is the improvement of our education system in order to provide the highly skilled workforce for a competitive labour market and progressive society.

ERT views the Finnish education system as a benchmark and the Finnish education experts that are visiting Nigeria for the first time will be bringing a fresh and innovative perspective to teacher training, school leadership and administration.

The two-day learning event is taking place in Lagos and is for all key stakeholders in the private and public sector who are passionate about education and raising standards.

For those who own and manage private schools there are secrets of the Finnish education system waiting to be revealed. And there will be valuable strategies that will help you unlock the potential in your school and give you a competitive edge.

The experience in Finland of the ERT has shifted our thinking and given unflinching hope that we can fix Nigeria’s education system; we are determined and committed to doing so.

Mr  ALERO AYIDA-OTOBO,CEO of Incubator Africa Ltd., wrote from Abuja.


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