25.03.2022, Johanna Järvinen-Taubert
Education Outside Classroom – The secret ingredient of Finnish education excellence
Education outside classroom (EOC) is often characterized by curriculum-based educational activities practiced outside the school buildings, in natural (e.g., a park or forest) or cultural (e.g., a museum or library) settings. EOC includes for example versatile field trips, visits to museums, and various ways of outdoor learning. In addition, EOC is often considered as ‘experiential’ or ‘authentic’ learning.
Finland has a long tradition in education outside classroom. For decades it has been typical for Finnish classes to visit various places outside school. Visits to different museums, libraries, exhibitions, cultural events, and versatile workplaces have been part of Finnish schooling from early childhood education to upper secondary education for generations. Learning outdoors – or using nature as a learning environment – has an especially strong emphasis in Finnish education.
Finland is a country covered by forests. There’s basically forest nearby every Finnish basic education (grades 1-9) school. It is not unusual that a forest begins from the school yard. So, it’s no wonder that Finnish teachers frequently take their classes to nature to learn new things. (If you want to get to know an interesting example of Finnish innovative EOC practices please check out the online course Outdoor Exercises and Art in STEAM projects.)
It is noteworthy that nature is not used as a learning environment to learn biology only. Nature is an endless source of learning possibilities: you can learn e.g., mathematics, physics, languages, art, physical education etc. in nature. Furthermore, the current complex environmental problems and their impact on nature are best understood in a real context. Learning outdoors has multiple benefits. For example, it provides real-world context for learning, promotes understanding larger phenomena, enhances enthusiasm and motivation, increases self-esteem and helps students to become more engaged in their learning.
Daycare education in a forest – despite the weather
Moreover, Finland has experience of more pervasive models of education outside the classroom as well. There are early childhood education and pre-primary groups in Finland that operate outdoors all the time. In these groups children spend their entire day in daycare / pre-primary education in a forest. They play, learn different things, have lunch and snacks outdoors – despite the weather. Sometimes they have a small hut with open fire where they go for instance in an exceptionally hard rain. The feedback from these groups is fabulous: children are happy and calm, and adults are enjoying themselves as well. Learning results are excellent. Especially children with learning difficulties or other challenges seem to benefit of this natural learning environment.
Jopo® – flexible basic education in real-life context
Very different example of a comprehensive Finnish EOC model is Jopo® – flexible basic education program. Jopo® program is usually intended for 9th graders who lack school motivation and run a high risk of exclusion from upper secondary education. These pupils often don’t get motivated by traditional teacher-led ways of learning, but instead they benefit e.g. from learning by doing. That’s why Jopo® program includes a great deal of on-the-job learning at real workplaces. On-the-job learning gives students an opportunity to achieve learning goals in the real-life context.
Moreover, Jopo® program utilizes versatile learning environments such as learning camps and field trips which strengthen the sense of belonging and give further opportunities to learn outside the classroom. Jopo® program has proven to be very effective. Jopo® program in general and its EOC practices in particular help students to regain their lost school motivation and improve their performance at school.
Do you want to stay up to date and contribute?
It is no wonder, that education outside of classroom has raised a lot of interest globally. Beginning from Autumn 2021, we were delighted to join the OTTER project with other talented European partners who are enthusiastic about developing education outside classroom.
OTTER is an EU-funded project which aims to spark young people’s interest in science and environmental sustainability with the help of education outside the classroom tools and methodologies. With our partners – Geonardo and Bridge Budapest (Hungary), University of Limerick (Ireland), University of Groningen (the Netherlands), European Science Foundation (France), The Big Van Theory (Spain), and Cardet (Cyprus) – we will leverage the power of education outside the classroom methods to improve STEAM learning among young people and raise awareness of today’s environmental problems.
If you are interested to learn more about the new pedagogical models for education outside of classroom or other tools and materials developed for EOC in OTTER project, please check the OTTER’s website. Are you curious about the concept of education outside the classroom and the latest innovations in the field? If yes, we recommend you to subscribe to the OTTER newsletter.
Let’s make education outside the classroom a reality!