Monthly Archives: October 2013

Wakey Wakey Why?

If you know me personally, I have probably asked you this biology question: What is the only species that tries to fall asleep not yet tired? Hint: the same species forces itself to wake up while still very tired. You guessed it: homo sapiens.

There was a story a while back on Finnish television about schools that not only make wakeup calls to drowsy students, but actually go to their homes to pick them up. Crazy if you ask me. (For my Finnish readers, find the story here.)

Why do we start our days so early? After all, majority of us are no longer farmers, dependent on daylight. Ideally we would sleep as long as we wanted, and then organize our waking hours as we please before going back to bed. And by “as we please” I of course take into account that there are jobs to do, things to learn.

Turns out “business before pleasure” is a notion deeply rooted in us, also in our children. My pal Tim Walker asked his class of 5th graders at what time they would like to start their school days. Surprisingly many replied 8 or 9 o’clock. The reasoning was that if they start early, they still have enough time left after school to do other things. Smart kids.

So it seems that we would like to sleep longer, but if given the choice, we prefer waking up early and getting the job done. I believe this is the majority opinion, going beyond Tim’s class. I just feel sorry for those of us who would like to sleep in and start to work/learn later.

Our society does not support this at all. For knowledge workers with no children this might be doable. For the rest of us, not so much. What could be done? Could we set up our society differently? After all, people should be free to organize their own calendars.

Since this is a blog post and not a thesis, consider this a discussion opener rather than an answer. However, some preliminary random thoughts for you to take away:

  • Notice population density. In big cities it would be easier to find enough people with similar daily schedules to cater their needs. In small towns and rural areas, more difficult.
  • Digitalize everything you can. Or rather provide 24/7 digital options to as many societal functions as possible. Important especially for those rural areas.
  • Consider operating on different time zones, even when serving a single one. Recently STT, a News Agency serving Finnish media companies, announced that they are considering to start operating their nightly news desk from Australia (almost exactly on the opposite side of the globe).
  • Shorten the core of work- and schooldays to 3-4 hour chunks in the middle of the day, and provide flexibility for the rest. This would serve both morning and evening persons. Some would start their work from these chunks, others would finish with them.
  • Accept diversity. Attitudes and tolerance are the key to everything. Morning people should respect evening folks and vice versa.


Please Don’t Differentiate Six Year Olds

I’ve been writing nice words about Estonia. I think it is excellent that they start to teach programming to first graders. However, today reading the morning paper* my jaw dropped: in Tallinn, the nation’s capital, six year old kids take entrance exams to get into the school their parents want them to go.

Entrance exams for six year olds? What is this madness? This again shows how different European educational systems are from each other, even for neighboring countries.

Sweden has introduced standardized tests for many age levels in K-12 education. In Finland the only mandatory test is the matriculation examination at the end of upper secondary (highschool). In Finland roughly 1 in 10 applicants gets to go to teacher education. In Sweden 11 in 10 get in. In other words, there are empty seats in Swedish teacher education institutions. So clearly in Finland the profession of teacher is more valued than in our western neighbor.

And now this. You can basically see Estonia and Tallinn if you stand on your tiptoes in Helsinki and look south, over the Gulf of Finland part of the Baltic Sea. It is so close. However, entrance examinations for primary schools couldn’t be further away from what is valued in Finnish education.

As you might know, all walks of life meet in a Finnish classroom and no differentiation is made before the end of lower secondary, roughly at the age of 16. Often the comment to this for example from the US point of view is that Finland is so small and homogeneous country that this is the best way to go. Well, Estonia is four times smaller than Finland. So there goes that theory.

No, what this really boils down to is individualism vs. equality. Sure, we can differentiate right after kindergarten and put two children into separate tracks so that they don’t meet each other until one is cleaning the other’s house. But is this what we really want?

Or we can put them into the same classroom and teach them not only maths, languages, and history, but also mutual respect and tolerance. I want to believe in a system where differentiation takes place inside a classroom, not between classrooms. Inside a school, not between schools.

* For my Finnish readers, you can find the Helsingin Sanomat story here.

Entrepreneurialism to Schools?

My employer Sanoma is currently doing a good job with what we call “Accelerator programs”. The essence of these programs is to teach lean startup methodologies to corporate people via concrete idea development and validation process. Intrapreneurship, that’s what it is about.

So far we’ve completed two programs and the third one is currently on. Last year I enrolled to the first program, Mobile Accelerator, and really liked it. For the second one, Content Accelerator, I took part as an evaluator of learning-related ideas. Now we have Commerce Accelerator going on and I am coaching student participants.

For the first two programs we had people from within Sanoma only, but now we are inviting also higher ed students to join. I think this is great! Entrepreneurialism has started to make its way big time to Finnish higher education institutions and it is awesome if we can support this trend.

What about K-12, then? As we know, children have the window open to learn new things effortlessly. If entrepreneurialism, intrapreneurialism, startup-culture, and lean methods are so important, why don’t we teach them earlier? It shouldn’t come as a surprise to us that entrepreneurial thinking is alien to people if they were always taught to be risk-averse when growing up.

Albemarle County School District in Virginia, USA, is addressing this. They have started with the maker approach which is probably a good choice. Building stuff is concrete and gets children interested and motivated. It also expands student-centered education beyond the traditional “creative” arts subjects to “harder” ones like STEM.

Once the children have designed and built their own things, they can go on and validate how they work, think about how to get their friends to use them (marketing), and return to the drawing board to make them better.

What do you think, should startup thinking (and doing!) be taught to children?