Bicycle lanes and art classrooms

Arts education is understood wonderfully broadly in Finland, says a professor of education who moved from Chicago to Helsinki. Art classrooms, sewing machines, multimedia equipment – they are all part of the picture.

Therese Quinn

”Of course I knew about Finland before I came here. OECD’s Pisa survey is such a big thing for anyone working in education that one simply couldn’t avoid it,” says Therese Quinn, Associate Professor of Art Education from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

And yet Helsinki managed to take Quinn, a recently appointed Fulbright professor, by surprise, despite her having visited Finland five years earlier for a conference. The surprises, in fact, were many.

”I came at the end of the summer and the weather was great. I got to know the city and its amazing bicycling routes and cultural life. Despite its small size, Helsinki is an incredibly vibrant city."

Neither was the academic life what she was expecting. ”I’d been warned that Finnish students are quiet and might not participate in discussion. In my courses, however, there has been a lot of talk.”

“We talk about the content, of course. But my students have also never hesitated to say if I’m about to give them too much reading. They may be taking many courses simultaneously and many of them work in addition to studying.”

Some of the activeness of her students can also be credited to Quinn herself. Few professors bring goodies to their lectures or maintain a communal website made specifically for the course. Quinn also writes a blog on her experiences in Finland, called Olla Auki (‘To be open’, also – unintentionally – ‘To be broke’).

In addition to her teaching duties, Quinn has been carrying out research on arts education in Finnish schools. She has been impressed by what she has seen. ”Arts education is understood wonderfully broadly in Finland. The schools have art classrooms, sewing machines, multimedia equipment – you name it.”

Quinn is also studying the problematics related to the choice of schools, which is why she is also interested in the reform of the Universities Act and the changes that will follow in its wake.

”The way in which the reform has been promoted and argued for remind me of the country brand working group headed by Jorma Ollila, the former Nokia CEO. Or the report by the philosopher Pekka Himanen on Finnish culture, which talks about arts as an investment,” Quinn muses. ”Somehow these are all connected. I’m not yet quite sure how, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out…”

Read more:
Olla Auki Blog

Text: Juha Merimaa
Photo: Veikko Somerpuro

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