Given the striking success of Finland’s music education system, which Music Australia has explored in two previous stories (here and here), it is the more surprising that there have been so few attempts at adopting its methods and practices in other countries. There is a reason for this. Aside from other Scandinavian countries such as Sweden and Denmark with which is shares some features, the Finnish school system is not comparable at all to the rest of the world.
Could it be adopted in Australia for instance? The short answer is no. The structural changes would be immense, requiring the elimination of the private school sector, and the establishment of a network of government-subsidised music and art colleges around the country to service those parts of the school curriculum.
Steven Schwartz, chair of the board of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, believes the Finnish model would not work anyway for larger cultural reasons. He told The Sydney Morning Herald: “Of course, we can learn from [Finnish educators], but we cannot just impose their ways on Australian schools. Our culture is different and our population is more diverse. If we wish to excel in education, we must develop tactics, practices and models suitable for our country’s circumstances — an education designed to meet the needs of Australian students, schools and culture.”
Nevertheless, there might be things we can learn from the Finnish experience. Initiating exchange programs and institutional partnerships could open doors. The ANU and Monash University both have exchange agreements with three Finnish universities, and the University of Queensland with one, although these are in disciplines other than music. The same idea could be extended to orchestras, conservatoriums and schools of music. In 2007, the New York Philharmonic and New York University hosted a two-day symposium for US music educators entitled ‘Learning Overtures: Finland’. Conductor-composer Esa-Pekka Salonen spoke at this event along with five compatriot music educators. Two of the ideas discussed were starting children in music at an early age and evolving an integrated community of teachers, students and music lovers.
In Vietnam, a month-long training program has recently been set up for piano teachers by Finnish Professor Jarmo Anttila from the South Ostrobothnia Music Institute. In this, 16 trainnees are exposed to “various international methods and materials in order to update their knowledge of international piano teaching schools and practicing methods.” These include Finnish teaching approaches as well as Suzuki and other methods.
And in Africa, a higher education partnership involving collaboration in music education has been developed between the University of Jyväskylä, in central Finland, and universities in South Africa, Kenya, Botswana and Zimbabwe. Called the Music, Education and Cultural Identity project (MECI), it offers intensive courses that share learning and teaching skills in music between Finland and Africa.
Three has been strong interest in the UK over the years in the Finnish approach to music teaching. The conclusion reached by one commentator there, Michael Pearce, is worth relating as it may hold relevance for this country. He says: “With our very different populations and education systems, it would be unreasonable to suggest the UK could – or indeed should – try to replicate Finland’s unique approach to schooling and music education. But what we can learn from them is their core values of equality, highly personalised learning and trust in teachers to know their students best.”