We love Fulbright Finland’s Kelly Day and her “Less is More” look at Finnish education. But here, I spotlight a few times when Finns break out of this characteristic minimalist posture and get downright excessive. A playful look at space, seniors and schnauzers suggest that Finns aren’t always the restrained folks that we see.
Yes- there’s a lot of elbow-room here. My internet sources record that there is over 58 square kilometers for each 1000 Finns. But that room to stretch out also applies indoors at the secondary school level. Students and teachers have an extraordinary amount of space outside of the classroom. All five of the lukios (high schools) that I’ve visited boast dance-floor sized hallways, several areas furnished with sofas and chairs for lounging and visiting, well-equipped study areas, as well as student conference areas. A few of these schools are being renovated, and I understand that the new additions will provide even MORE of these casual spaces. Tampere Classical is finishing an entire wing to provide more space for student study, relaxation, and socialization. These generous outside class spaces are also enjoyed by teachers. I’ve shared pictures of teacher offices, lounge/coat rooms and large lunch rooms stocked with coffee/tea as well as a nutritious snack buffet prepared by the school cooks.
A paradox seems to occur in several Finnish lukio classrooms I’ve observed. Class sizes can be large – I’m talking 34 or 35 students; I’ve heard of classes numbering 40. There are undoubtedly many reasons why these large classes flow along so peacefully and productively. But I have to wonder if at least part of the reason is the time students have between classes (15 minutes- even in “high school”) and the space to use that time to visit friends, relax, stretch, read, review, breathe, or even just catch a power nap. Honestly, I’ve yet to visit a high school with an enrollment over 500 – the square footage per pupil is staggering. If these same Finnish school buildings were in the US, I believe our school boards could stuff three or four times the students into them. And then wonder why we see so much aggression and detachment.
Not only is the amount of individual space extravagant, but I am stunned by the quality of it. When I did my initial research into the location of the Turku lukios, I was confused, thinking that once again my directional deficits let me down, causing incorrect map reading. All five of the Turku lukios are near the center- the high rent district. Shouldn’t there be banks and million-dollar lofts here? In my own district, like many others across America, high schools are located in low-lying areas at the edge of town, next to sewage treatment facilities, on cheap land no one wants. I’ve been to lukios in Turku, Tampere, and Helsinki- all located in the dead center of town- near museums, gorgeous city libraries, beautiful historic architecture, castles and cathedrals, government buildings, city parks. One teacher shared that she and her students enjoy French class at a city gallery and/or coffee shop. I’m sure many other classes do the same.
It is disturbing how many US high schools resemble an Orange is the New Black set. But Finland High? Prime location, scrupulously clean, and lots and an stretching room for everyone. Just one Finnish instance of more, more, more.
More Seniors on the Streets!
Most American seniors just don’t get out and about much once they reach a certain age. A good bit of this may be related to the way our cities are set up and to the crucial importance of maintaining a driver’s license. So when our seniors advance to those truly golden years- late seventies, eighties, nineties and up- we just don’t see them hitting the pavement much any more. Maybe a trip to church or Walmart or the drugstore, but other than that, they tend to be unseen.
Not so in Turku. Seniors are loud and proud! I see them out and about regularly- and the weather has been tricky even for whippersnappers. In the snow and ice, they strut around on walkers- some with wheels, canes with ice picks, cleats, and even ski poles. They travel in pairs, in groups, or solo. They are out in the city center doing their banking, shopping, and errands, taking the grandkids for ice cream, having coffee or just strolling. They are riding the bus and moving around independently. My chest warms when I see these oldest citizen warriors carrying on- I think we all want that fearlessness as we age.
Finns want to see even more of their oldest residents. The senior section of the Turku city webpage notes that services are available to support seniors living at home as long as possible. The city understands that its’ duty to Turku’s oldest citizens lies in “organizing support for people who care for their close relatives and for organizing family care for the elderly and ageing residents of Turku so they can live safely at home for as long as possible with the help of home care and supporting services.” When that is no longer possible, 24 hour residential care is available. There are five smallish residential homes in the Turku area. And even in a residential home, concern for all aspects of senior well-being continues to be important. A recent aging and well being study evaluates residential homes, checking the “measures enabling the elderly to play an active part in public, social, and cultural life, in order for them to remain “full members of society.”
In the meantime, seniors are running the streets -and it’s winter. As soon as spring arrives, you can bet there will be even more of these old guys and gals cutting up. It’s like they know their place or something.
Finns love dogs. Schnauzers, mutts, beagles, poodles, pomeraineans, Daschunds, the occasional Dane or Lab… are all out and about walking their owners, sporting cutting edge sweaters and booties and sometimes even little tail socks. Most dogs are small; most Turku residents are apartment dwellers. Here, dogs can travel in trains and buses and are welcome in restaurants. The Turku city page lists the municipal services available for pets. There are fifteen dog parks and fenced areas. The city provides dog swimming areas, vet services and a pet cemetery. There are pet shelters and a pet welfare department.
So far, this observed excess applies only to dogs. I haven’t seen any cats roaming, but it is still cold. They are probably sitting on top of the radiators napping.
I’ve ranted about these over the top quirks more than I intended. More entries on more butter, more self-responsibility, more parks, more male fashion savvy will keep. For now, this bit about a place with more space, more street seniors, and more schnauzers is more than enough.
This blog is not an official Fulbright Program blog and the views expressed are my own and not those of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State, or any of its partner organizations.