We come from Finland, the country of Pisa fame in primary school education level. Public sector authorities and some private sector companies have a strong belief that we can export this knowledge to other countries, maybe first to countries, which are starting from a lower performance level and have a big enough private school market to be able to act as customers to often small Finnish companies, who are either used to serve to the tiny Finnish market or are startups. As a startup, it is clear to us that we cannot base our business plan on growth in the Finnish market, which is dominated by near-monopoly companies as entrenched suppliers to the mostly public-sector schools. Looking at how the education exports have started, it is clear that exporting of Finnish education methods is not as straight-forward in practice as has been expected by many authorities.
The first thing to consider is culture. Finnish education methods have been tailored to the Finnish society and culture frame over the last several decades. Finnish culture is a high-trust culture, meaning that it is fairly natural for example for teachers to let students evaluate themselves. Finland is also a very egalitarian or “low power distance” culture, meaning the opposite of authoritarian or “high power distance”, meaning that it is only natural that students are treated as human beings with the same value as the teachers. This makes learning e.g. in flipped classroom contexts natural. Already these parameters make the Finnish school environment quite different from most of the rest of the world. The cultural characteristics have an impact on curriculum and teacher training. They cannot be changed overnight, so we must find ways to accommodate for the differences with local experts.
Looking at education from a market perspective, it is clearly operated mostly by the public sector also worldwide. This means that money to school budgets comes from tax payers and tends to be scarce even at the best of times. Most of that money will be used to pay for school buildings, related infrastructure, and teacher salaries. Level of teacher education and compensation varies, but is typically not at the Finnish level. Most of the operational improvement focus will be spent on the big-ticket items of reducing these costs and improving efficiencies e.g. by automating tasks. Not a lot of focus is left to improving learning experiences, which is of course LUPO EDU focus.
We have discovered a couple of ways around these local culture and money flow imposed constraints to enable experimenting with new types of learning experiences.
- In India, we learned that they have since 2014 had a law, which requires businesses earning more than 10 billion rupees (€130 million) to give away 2% of their net profit to charity. This has opened up a funding channel for non-profits focused on teacher training and learning experience innovation, which is much quicker than the government channels as long as these non-profits have the right kinds of people to talk to these big businesses.
- In the US and to some extent probably also in the UK, one way around the school district big-ticket item purchasing is to work with libraries and non-profits. Especially the latter can use private sector tax-deductible contributions to focus on learning experience innovation. In the US, it seems that much of the EdTech innovation is driven by non-profits as a result.
We are currently exploring partnerships with these kinds of local entities, who can help us adapt our product to local culture and curriculum needs and may get funding from the locally relevant private sector sources. We are also exploring public sector cooperation, but expect that to be much slower.
Until next week!
Author: Nouri Mikko Werdi