Cardiff has its own “Finnishing” school.
Cardiffin Suomi-Koulu, in Canton, is a non-profit charity which is financially supported by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture.
“We wanted to establish a school to support language development of Welsh children with Finnish roots and teach Finnish in a formal setting,” said Kaisa Pankakoski. Mrs Pankakoski, of Pontcanna, has lived in Wales for 12 years with her Welsh partner and, along with fellow expatriate volunteers, manages the school.
She believes second-language learning is an integral part of a child’s development: “Many EU member states already promote children’s early language learning and hopefully, in the future, policymakers in our multicultural Wales will initiate supporting heritage languages. In 2007 there were 72 municipalities in Finland that arranged mother tongue tuition in 55 languages to 11,482 pupils.”
Finland is a world leader in education, and has recently proposed to disband classical “subjects” in favour of “topic” learning.
The cultural differences with Wales are stark. Mrs Pankakoski’s son, who is nearly five, started pre-school more than a year ago. His best friend in Finland will start school four years later, when he is seven and a half.
“I grew up wearing tracksuit bottoms at school, socks instead of shoes, free school lunches for all, not having more than half an hour of homework per day and addressing teachers by their first name,” Mrs Pankakoski added.
In Finland there are no inspections or school league tables and children are not formally tested until the end of compulsory education, while children in Wales are tested from Year Two onwards. Mrs Pankakoski said: “Finland and Wales are both isolated, bilingual nations with small populations. Their politics and cultures have led to very different approaches to education.
“Wales is lagging behind and obviously a change is needed but there are no quick fixes.
“I went to a school where pupils’ parents were diplomats or celebrities, others had a part-time cleaning job or worked behind the till at the local supermarket. All the pupils had the same expectations to achieve in class – and achieve they did.”
Cardiffin Suomi-Koulu, which was founded in 2011, now runs four separate classes, with people travelling from North Wales and England to attend. The Finnish Ambassador is due to visit later this year.