Primary page content

Summer School in Helsinki

Benjamin Morran, a PGCE student, attended a summer school on Finnish education at the University of Helsinki. They were awarded a £800 Santander Universities Go Abroad bursary to help cover their costs.

I first found out about Goldsmith’s Go Abroad programme through the language partner programme on the VLE. At first, I thought that I might apply to a language school to work on my Russian but, when I looked through the list of Goldsmith’s partner institutions, I spotted the University of Helsinki, which gave me an even better idea. Finland, in recent years, has come to be highly regarded for its education system on account of world-class PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results. As I was, at that time, halfway through my teacher training year, I decided to check the University of Helsinki’s summer school catalogue to see if they were offering a course on education and, sure enough, they were: Finnish education system through social justice and diversities, to be exact. This course, I thought, could really broaden my horizons as a new teacher and so I decided to apply to Goldsmiths for funding.

The whole process was really straightforward: I applied, providing all the usual details and an explanation of my motivations and, before long, I received a response telling me that Goldsmiths would be able to cover most of the course fees. A few weeks after that, I went to meet a representative from the Go Abroad for a briefing and that was that, I was ready to go. Fast forward a few months and the time had arrived: off I set to Gatwick airport for a three hour flight to Helsinki!

In total, I spent about three weeks in the Finnish capital and, during that time, I think I probably met more people than I had all year up until that point. Staying in the university halls with other summer school participants and partaking in the summer school’s social programme meant that I was always bumping into someone new from somewhere new. There was never a dull moment! On an average day, I’d wake up at about 8, meet some friends from my course and others at the dormitory reception at 9 and then catch the bus into the city centre to start class at 10. From 10 to 12, we’d have a morning lecture, the subject of which varied from day to day: in one lecture, we learned about the shortcomings of Finnish education in ensuring equity for pupils from immigrant backgrounds, in another, we discussed the moral dilemmas faced by both pupils and teachers in the school environment. Though varied in content, the lectures were all equally interesting, especially since the lecturers always encouraged a response from the course’s thirty (or so) participants, most of whom came from different countries and therefore offered fascinatingly different perspectives. Some of my best experiences on the course were those times when a debate would break out and there would be a teacher from Brazil challenging the opinion of an educational statistician from France who had spoken up, in the first place, in response to a point made by the lecturer from Iran! In these moments I felt that the course had achieved its aim of bringing an international community together to really dig into the structure and the ethics of education systems in Finland and beyond.

In the afternoon, we usually had group work and this time would either be used to work on a collaborative report (through which we were aiming to compare the treatment of social justice and diversity in the curriculums of our home countries) or to discuss articles (each person in the group would read one article and then share their summary with their group mates). After class, the summer school usually had some kind of social event planned these ranged from a workshop with the university’s entrepreneurial society, to a design-oriented tour of the city, to an evening cruise to a local island. On the evenings where we were left to our own devices, we made our own fun: straining our vocal chords at Finnish karaoke, visiting one of the many galleries or museums, or making use of the free sauna back at the halls of residence.

To anyone else out there considering applying for the Go Abroad scheme, I would say 100% go for it. It really is a once in a lifetime opportunity to get out there and learn something new with friends you haven’t met yet in a place you’ve probably never been to. I will remember my time in Helsinki for the rest of my life and I’m certain that all of the things I discovered – in lectures, in conversation, in trips to the local schools, in meeting Finnish students – will have an impact on my life as a teacher moving forward. Just thinking back over my experience now makes me feel incredibly grateful for the support I received from the Go Abroad team and, for that, I would like to say a big, big “thank you” to everyone that made my adventure possible.

Funding for this opportunity was provided by Santander Universities