On 16 March 2020, the whole education sector in Finland was closed by the government as one of the measures to slow down the spread of coronavirus.
More precisely, premises were temporarily closed but instructions were issued that teaching and guidance were to be organised “as widely as possible in alternative ways, including distance learning, various digital learning environments and solutions and, where necessary, self-study”.
In Finland, non-formal or so-called liberal adult education (in other words adult education centres, folk high schools, learning centres, sports training centres and summer universities) has traditionally been organised as contact learning in classrooms or workshops.
The shutdown has forced these institutions to quickly renew their thinking on how education should be organised. In fact, I would like to think that, in the future, 16 March will be remembered as the day when a new era in Finnish adult education began.
SHORTLY AFTER THE PANDEMIC STARTED, the Finnish Association of Adult Education Centres (KoL) conducted a member survey about the effects, and 122 centres around Finland responded. In March, these centres estimated that approximately 68 percent of ongoing courses and courses about to start would have to be cancelled.
However, the questionnaire also showed that 72 percent of the centres were already transforming some of their courses so that they could be offered using the means of distance learning.
In 2019 merely 0.3 percent of all training hours at Finnish adult education centres were provided in the form of distance learning.
Moreover, these institutions expected that 27 percent of all their training hours would be organised fully or partly through distance methods.
It is interesting to measure these numbers against the fact that according to KoL, in 2019 merely 0.3 percent of all training hours at Finnish adult education centres were provided in the form of distance learning.
The speed of the transformation has been impressive, particularly considering that at the same time the sector has faced a financial crisis.
THE FINNISH GOVERNMENT HAS ALSO BEEN ready to act quickly in order to ensure that legislation does not hinder the use of distance methods.
The Act on Liberal Adult Education states that, in folk high schools and sports centres, at least 10 hours of contact learning should be offered for students if the course is otherwise held by using the methods of distance learning. Of course, during the pandemic, all courses have had to be cancelled. According to the Finnish Government, the institutions do not currently need to follow this regulation.
On an institutional level, the crisis has caused a tremendous amount of work for boards, principals and teachers. Both principals and teachers have shown their ability to overcome great challenges and create new solutions.
On an institutional level, the crisis has caused a tremendous amount of work for boards, principals and teachers.
Although teachers in Finnish liberal adult education mainly work on a part-time basis, they must have completed an appropriate university degree and pedagogical studies. There is also a strong national aim to support the digital skills of teachers in all sectors of education.
I would argue that, without this, the transformation would not have been as quick as it was.
I HAVE BEEN ABLE TO FOLLOW THIS TRANSFORMATION closely in our organisation, which runs the Southern Helsinki Adult Education Centre. I have also been able to get the students’ perspective, as I attend a Spanish course at the centre.
The teachers’ self-confidence in virtual education visibly grew day by day.
Here, almost all courses were changed from contact learning to distance courses. A digital learning platform was quickly opened for the use of teachers, and pedagogical and technical instructions and support were provided by office staff members.
As a result, the teachers’ self-confidence in virtual education visibly grew day by day, and I got to witness many “great leaps” into the digital era. Even piano lessons were organised online only a couple of days after the dramatic closing of contact lessons.
On my Spanish course, the teacher first offered the students written instructions about self-study. The following week, multiformat material such as recordings were shared, then live lessons were launched by providing the students with the possibility to meet and discuss virtually.
Finally, full lessons were organised pedagogically on a learning platform. All the participants shared, laughed and enjoyed the opportunity to learn together. In fact, our latest digital Spanish lesson ran 30 minutes over, as we were all too focused to remember to check the time!