Superintendent learns about innovation in Finland schools


Alexa Doiron

Superintendent Robert Graham (left) was selected to go to Finland with New Kent and Montgomery County superintendents. Finland was recently named by PISA as the number one educational system in the world.

Radford Superintendent, Robert Graham, was sent to Finland this past week by EF Tours in order to learn more about Finnish school systems. Finland was recently named the number one country in the world for education and the government offers a grant to send superintendents from all over the country to learn what Finland does to make education so successful.

The Finnish education system is comprised of a six-year primary school education, and then three years in middle school Education holds no tuition fees and has a fully subsidized meal program available to all students. In early education, students in Finland don’t start school until the age of seven and then at the age of 16 must decide if their secondary education will be either on the academic or vocational track.

Finland school systems are known for being innovative and breaking from traditional education practices in order to improve student learning and preparation for the future. Graham noticed a lot of similarities between the school systems in Helsinki, Finland’s capital, and Radford City.

“A lot of what we saw confirmed what our vision and mission here is, similar to what a lot of the schools in Helsinki are doing,” Graham said. “That is placing a large interest in innovative teaching and learning, using a lot critical and creative thinking, communication, collaboration skills to really boost our achievement and really prepare our students for either the workforce or college and hopefully increasing the soft skill set.”

One of the positive education aspects that Graham noticed was the maternity package that the government offers to families with newborns. In each package the child is given necessary survival tools, such as diapers or blankets, as well as three books. This is critical to educational development because ninety percent of brain growth occurs during the first five years of life, says one Finnish neurological study.

“They spend a lot of time early on in the child’s life, really supporting that child and providing for that child to get it started in the right direction so that it can be successful when they enter the schools,” Graham said.

Finnish schools have a very strong focus in early education and care, and the government offers quality daycare for all families with young children as well as nursery and kindergarten programs. The Finland government sees these accommodations as critical for developing early communication and educational skills that are necessary for life-long success.

The value of teachers is also something Graham noticed to be a successful aspect of the schools. In Finland, one of the top three careers is teaching. Only nine percent of teachers who apply to programs in the field are accepted, which allows the country to pick from the best of the best. While Graham recognizes that there is a shortage of teachers in the United States, he said he feels as though Radford City is right in line with the quality of teachers that Finland offers.

“I feel like in Radford City we are also pulling from the best of the best,” Graham said. “We have a great, talented, knowledgeable, and caring instructional staff that I felt is every bit as good as what I saw over there.”

Graham was able to participate in a number of activities to learn about education in Finland, such as taking part in the daily routine of a Finnish person and listen to the two systems that run education.

Graham also was able to attend the global education summit in Milan, Italy. The theme of this year’s summit was food and how school systems can use food to help make the world and schools a better place. Graham participated in activities with the 2,000 students in attendance at the conference and was able to learn about nutrition in education as well as see live demonstrations from popular Food Network host, Anthony Bourdain.

“We had to break into groups of ten and figure out how we could make the world better with food,” Graham said. “This is very similar to Radford City with our innovative teaching and learning practices. Even in Italy, it was affirmed to me that we are doing the things that are appropriate and beneficial to students.”

This unique conference brings together schools from around the world that have already implemented substantial systemic change to one or more area of the traditional educational model. Graham said he made connections with educators from all over the globe that gave him new ideas, but also made him confident in the direction Radford City Public Schools are headed.

“What I learned the most is that where we are going is exactly what we should be doing,” Graham said. “As good as their country is in terms of education, I think Radford City is right there with it.”