The LUMA Centres of Finnish universities inspire children and young people to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), develop learning innovations, and educate teachers.
The Centres’ best known education products include science clubs and camps. Science classes for school children are also very popular. The Gadolin chemistry lab in Helsinki, for example, caters to over 4,000 children a year. The classrooms also offer an opportunity to study which teaching methods work and why they do so.
The network of LUMA Centres is led by Professor Maija Aksela of the University of Helsinki, who is one of the most innovative developers of Finnish education. Aksela knows that small children learn better through games, play and stories. Their learning is based not only on intellect, but also on emotion. Research indicates that early experiences of comprehension and success are the best support for later education at school.
Little scientists at home
One of the latest novelties is the Jippo virtual club, based on cutting-edge research, which introduces 3–10-year olds to online science at home. The participants receive weekly videos with a math- or science-related exercise, which they can solve at home and then discuss the results at the club sessions. Since children learn through play and joy, the pleasure of comprehension and success is very important. The clubs are a hobby shared by the entire family.
PhD student Jenni Vartiainen, who coordinates the Jippo project and has developed the virtual clubs, emphasises the extensive research behind the clubs.
“Everything is based on research on elements that support learning,” she says.
Chemistry and physics have not been discussed much in Finnish kindergartens, because the staff often feel they do not know enough about the fields. Virtual clubs offer tools and learning material for science education in day care. Even three-year-olds can study natural science phenomena through games and play.
Both the science classes and the Jippo virtual clubs have attracted a great deal of attention outside Finland.
“We aim at education export,” says Vartiainen. “Science education for small children is getting lots of attention, and Finland has a good reputation for education. Little research has been conducted in this field, and the topic carries novelty value.”
Maija Aksela is also familiar with the interest shown towards the Finnish school system.
Thanks for this go to the high standards of the universities’ teacher education and Finland’s good results in PISA surveys.
“Teachers influence society for a century – first through their own careers and then through that of their pupils and students,” Aksela points out. “As long as teachers and universities interact and learn from one another, the latest research data can spread throughout society.”