Aquarium, a curious concept of education

Every time I would get involved in export/exchange education projects in Finland, I would remind asking myself:

How did Finland change its own education system? How did the transformation happen?

Because when foreign visitors (like me, some years ago) come here, it is difficult to see beyond the amazing schools that appear in front of our eyes. One needs to understand that what we see today is the result of a long-term process, with conflicts of ideas and even drawbacks.

For example, did you know that…

  • … Before WW2, Finnish primary education was formal, teacher-centered, and moral-oriented? It was inspired in the German model of education, in which more “capable” students were tracked to “academic subjects” and those students who were lagging behind (or, as they used to say, “preferred manual work”) were tracked to “vocational studies”.
  • … Back in the 1950s, Finland had a public-private school system? Additionally, the government used to fund private schools in order to both support the post-war increased demand for education and extend government control over them.
  • … After WW2, the three major transformation policy agenda in Finland were: accessibility (universal and unified education), curriculum (holistic and personalized education), and professionalism (qualified teachers)? Later, they also invested efforts on developing career counselling, so students would get more support on making decisions for their lives.
  • … The Finnish Primary School Teachers’ Association was one of the strongest civil society organization in favor of an unified school system? Their ideas were in direct opposition to the general opinion of university professors back then.
  • … After unifying the school system in 1970s, one of the first aspect to be developed was special needs support? So the schools could attend the diverse needs of pupils in order for all to reach education success.
  • … Finland has mostly implemented education approaches based on research developed abroad, such as USA, Canada and UK? For instance, Finnish universities and schools were one of the first countries to implement in large scale the cooperative learning methodology from Johnson brothers.

What happens in a Aquarium …

A source that helped me understand this transformation process was the famous book Finnish Lesson, written by Pasi Sahlberg. It was reading this book that I learned that, in the 1990s, Finnish schools and municipalities were protagonists of the education system transformation, when teachers, parents, and pupils used to network in an organic and capillary manner in order to exchange ideas about how school should work. This network became then “the Aquarium Project”, a national school improvement initiative enabling all Finnish schools, principals, and teachers to network with each other, with the purpose to transform schools into active learning communities.

As soon as I learned about the Aquarium Project, I immediately thought about Eduix office’s main room, which is also called Aquarium. You can see it in the back of our office, in the picture below.

My curiosity arose because Eduix’s Aquarium room is where the main meetings happen, between workers and board members, when we have visitors, or when we have a high number of attendees in the meeting. It was there where I have shared my ideas with others and built further roadmaps about developing capacity building and education exchange with partners. I immediately asked Rami Heinisuo, Eduix CEO, what was the meaning behind the name of that room, since it was also called Aquarium. And so he said:

The glass wall is the reason. We could fill it with water and have fish there…
And there was a computer classroom at the Tampere university in the 90’s that was named Akvaario, because of the glass walls…

But your story is suitable also.

While laughing about his answer, I realized I will not see the Aquarium meeting room as I did before. Now I have the sense that, somehow, we are continuing the “Aquarium project” since 1990s, in our own manner. In 1996, Eduix was funded and our team started to listen to education institutions in order to develop edtech solutions for the benefit of the Finnish education system.