The process of opening a Finnish international school

September 16th 2019 was a historical day in Georgia. The first Finnish International School (FIS) was opened in Tbilisi. The school founder, Aieti Kukava, was ecstatic and determined to create the best school in Georgia, which will have the best possible teachers, learning environment and opportunities for individual students.

See the video – Opening day of the school in Georgia!

A school designed by a group of Finnish and local experts

The Finnish International School – Georgia was designed by Polar Partners and its network of Finnish partners, including Finland University, University of Turku and private training companies such as KOULU Group, PedaNow, ALO Finland, SkillSafari, Johtajuustaito, an architecture office Finnish Education Group, publishing company Otava, software company Claned and marketing agency Unfair. The Georgian team gathered their own pedagogical, financial and marketing experts to co-create models that would work in Georgia, with the Finns.

The design process

Project kick off – The school design process started in 2018. After initial planning via Skype, the Georgian team visited Finland to experience and understand various aspects of Finnish Education principles and to create a vision of the school together with Polar Partners. Next, it was crucial for the Finnish experts to visit Georgia and meet all the relevant stakeholders to make sure the feasibility, legality, authority support and market demand to create a detailed project plan for the school set-up phase.

Staff and training – After the plan had been made, the Finnish-Georgian team started recruiting the best personnel as teachers, principals and support staff. The interest for a new Finnish school was overwhelming and the applications were pouring in from several countries, so we managed to select top-class staff. The teachers started a 6-month journey of training prior to the beginning of the school year, in order to understand the basics and some advanced features of Finnish pedagogy, assessment, educational values, curriculum and school as part of the society. The training will continue for several years, ensuring the latest pedagogical knowledge and skills of the teachers. The school will start in a direction of a Finnish Principal Jarkko Niiranen, who said:  “We are working almost like in a start-up company, setting up everything for the first time, but we have great plans and an experienced team of Finnish and local experts to make sure all will be of premium quality!”

Legal process –Polar Partner always works openly with the authorities respecting the laws and regulations of both countries. Finnish and Georgian Ministries of Education and of Foreign Affairs had supported the process with their experts, without direct funding for this private school project. Especially the Finnish ambassador Arja Makkonen helped different stakeholders to see the benefit of Finnish and Georgians developing education together.

Curriculum – FIS will use the Finnish National Core Curriculum, but some parts of it were localized to meet the realities and standards of Georgia. The core values, assessment criteria and most of the contents remained the same, as the Finnish curriculum is already quite universal and aims to support the growth of 21st century global citizens. Clearly some parts of the content had to be changed, so the FIS students would not have to learn Finnish & Swedish language or the geography, history and biology of Finland. The school decided to specialize in four areas selected from the Finnish curriculum: Teachers’ professional development, student wellbeing, growing entrepreneurial attitude and understanding the potential and moral choices of emerging technologies.

School architecture – The school building is designed by a school architecture expert Heikki Luminen, according to the Finnish educational principles. He was assisted by a recognized local architect Tornike Dadiani. The next phase is to design a full K-12 campus and to connect it to the surrounding society as a natural hub for human interaction.

Project management – In order to design a school with over 150 different aspects of Finnish education, designed by more than 20 experts from 10 different organisations, the project needed a dedicated and a full-time project manager from both countries. Kimmo Kumpulainen, a co-founder of Polar Partners, selected the best experts from Finland and created a comprehensive plan with them and the Georgian experts. During the design and setup phase it was crucial to communicate frequently with an extensive network of experts, authorities, staff, parents, students, investors and media. Delivering and assuring the quality of the services, finances, legal aspects, mutual understanding and compliance with Finnish educational principles needs continuous follow-up and management.

The end result – and the starting point for further development

Now, after the school has started, the results of over a year of preparation, planning and training can be seen. The students come to school and leave home with a smile. Teachers are confident in using varying teaching and assessment methods to ensure individual support for students. The vast group of people following the schools’ everyday life from social media, can see practical examples of modern 21st century teaching. For example, math can be understood more deeply while baking. The difference between the units cl and dl will be remembered throughout life, when the salt was measured with a wrong cup! Environmental studies will “come alive” after orientation discussion about snakes. Two real (pet) snakes are brought to the classroom, and with careful handling, these creatures will display a positive side of their species and to remind the limits of not being too friendly with all snakes in the nature.

Next, FIS will continue to develop dozens of aspects of the school with Polar Partners. New specialized pedagogical and administrative aspects are introduced at a steady, but reasonable pace during the next 5 years. After all the aspects of a Finnish school have been put into practice once, they will be continuously updated with Georgian-Finnish co-operation, based on latest educational research.

FIS will also aim to be a hub of teacher training and educational co-development in Georgia. It will build a teacher training centre next to the school and invite other public and private schools and research institutions to develop education in Georgia together with the Finnish experts.

Written by: Kimmo Kumpulainen, Co-Founder of Polar Partners Ltd