Thursday, January 31, 2013

When you have a choice, you must have a fair

This week I went to the Jyväskylän Paviljonki to see the Next Step fair in action. Bonus- I also took a really amazing Finnish speaking friend with me so that I could understand what was happening. Talk about a big help!

In Finland, students can choose what school they want to go to after their compulsory education ends in grade 9. This upper secondary school can be located anywhere in the country and if your parents can't afford to send you then you can get government assistance to go. So even though money matters, it isn't the only factor that determines your choice. When you have so many choices at 14-15 years old, you need a fair to help you understand where you can go. That is what Next Step is- a big bonanza of choices! I was overwhelmed and excited about the possibilities for students.   

There are schools there that specialize in journalism, arts, writing, horse riding, plumbing (they let me try to put the plumbing system together to see if I could problem solve- not bad, but slow was my feedback!) security, music, tourism, sports, mechanics, and many more. It really seems like if you can dream it, you can find a place to study it! 

This reminded me of a college fair, but there were 14-15 year olds running around instead of 18 year olds. Their teachers were trying to keep track of them and I recognized the look of counting and recounting students as you try to figure out the one you lost.  I have had that look on my face many times!

The other really cool thing about this event and this stage of student's education is that the whole community is behind the student making the choice. The newspaper publishes a separate section that outlines choices that students have (I hear about 98% of Finnish homes get the newspaper- could have something to do with high literacy rates...hmmm another Fulbright project?) This edition gives advice and opportunities for students at this decision point- pretty cool if you ask me!  Wouldn't it be great if the whole community around you was invested in you making the right decision for you and not just what they think is the right decision!