Suvi Sundquist: Digital revolution enters schools

5/27/2013

A class begins with a joyful buzz of conversation. School laptops have been taken from a castor pallet and placed on the pupils' desks. The sixth graders are filled with enthusiasm: we are going to play a game. An educational game developed by a Finnish company has been brought to a genuine learning environment for testing.

We have come ashore on a deserted island with the pupils. Our task is to survive as a group. Everyone is playing their game independently, but from time to time, we vote together as a group. The pupils team up and tactic proposals fly across the classroom. "What? Who wants to build a school?" asks the obvious leader of the class in a marvelling tone. Obviously it was me, the only grown-up player. The class bursts into laughter and the game continues. The teacher puts her thumb up: this thing is great.

The Finnish school system and its achievements in PISA student assessments are world renowned. We are a target for massive international interest, and education export companies will benefit from this. In addition to the PISA results, the Finnish ICT and gaming industries lay a strong foundation for the creation of new education exports. The use of information technology in Finnish schools remains at a low level, however, as indicated by a survey by the Finnish National Board of Education. The survey also revealed that schools have acquired computers, but teachers do not feel confident in their own abilities to use them. Is this because of the teachers or the solutions offered?

Society needs digitally competent citizens

Information and communication technologies have revolutionised economic life across sectors, created brand new services and rationalised a variety of functions. Society needs digitally competent citizens. Why do schools still provide one-direction information, then? Why do teachers still revise exams manually? Why do adolescents living in remote areas still remain unconnected from their peers at school?

An educational field professional compared the Finnish classroom to air travelling: sit down, stay put and close all electronic devices. The Finnish school system requires a digital revolution that will introduce new mobile horizons, set the pupils free from their desks and turn them into active, responsible and cooperative citizens and curious learners – for a lifetime.

The information society must be extended to schools through functional online connections, terminal equipment and services that support teachers' work. Teachers want to focus on their work, and faltering technology cannot be fitted into 45-minute performances. The requirement level for functionality remains high, which is a good thing. A product that serves the best schooling system in the world is also quite a reference elsewhere in the world. In addition to products developed by companies, the Finnish educational exports are based on the reformation of our own schooling system.

In the midst of the game, the pupils suddenly find hidden functions. A twelve-year-old player knows the deal: "If a player misses a point, the game developer is to blame". This is surely a great tip for the Finnish ICT industry as a whole.

The author Suvi Sundquist is the new Programme Manager of the Tekes Learning Solutions programme.

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