The centenary celebrations of Finland's independence started in Ethiopia with a seminar reflecting Finland's education system co-hosted by the Embassy of Finland, The Ministry of Education of Ethiopia and the Addis Abeba University which took place on 21st February at the University of Addis Ababa.
Minister of Education, H.E. Dr. Shiferaw Teklamariam highlighted the long history and good results of cooperation that Finland and Ethiopia have at the education sector. Moreover, he called for even stronger partnership for the post-2015 era in order to make Ethiopia as one of the African pioneers in the education sector. Ambassador Helena Airaksinen emphasized the good dialogue and strong connections between the countries' education sectors, kept up by for example the recently created Alumni network. She also reflected her own experiences of the equity Finnish schooling system: even though born in secluded countryside area she could go to school only 2 kilometers away from her home.
Three Finnish professionals introduced the education system all the way from elementary schools to higher education. Keynote speaker, Dr. Jouni Välijärvi gave a comprehensive speech on the Finnish education policy and the results and challenges of the current system. He pointed out that Finland has achieved its high ranking on PISA without any school inspections, nationwide tests or enormous financial resources. Ms. Irmeli Halinen spoke about the curriculum reform and the new kind of a holistic approach. She stressed that cooperation and communication, as well as values like sustainability and individualism form the basis of the new curriculum system.
Mr. Seppo Hölttä enlightened the audience about higher education in Finland and talked about the important role of Universities of Applied Sciences, institutions that provide more practical teaching to answer the demand of the labour market. In addition, three Ethiopian professionals, who have obtained their PhD Degrees in Finland and then returned to Ethiopia to work in the education sector, gave speeches on subjects such as ethnic and religious diversity in schools and multilingual education, and reflected the differences between Finnish and Ethiopian schooling systems. Ethiopia has succeeded extremely well with providing teaching in pupils' mother language, and nowadays teaching is given in more than 40 languages.
All the speakers stressed trust and equity as the most important features of the Finnish education system, and the Minister and other guest were keen to learn more about these cornerstones. Especially cooperative learning and inclusive education raised a lot of interest and discussion among the large audience. The crowd was interested to know, for instance, how Finland has accomplished to offer free and equal schooling for every child even with special needs. The trust among officials, teachers and pupils and the autonomy of teachers were also popular discussion topics. Especially the fact that there is no national testing or scanning for pupils raised a lot of interest.
The seminar was a good example of how professionals from different cultures and backgrounds can learn from each other. The Embassy of Finland in Addis Ababa is happy to work as a facilitator between organizations and individuals working on the education sector to meet and share experiences and lessons learned. The long history on Finland's and Ethiopia's bilateral cooperation creates a trustful atmosphere for discussions about the future of Ethiopia's education sector.