Finland may be less ostentatiously hipster than its Scandinavian neighbors but it is filled with forward-thinking and super-smart people. To mark 100 years of independence (from Russia), Finland is embarking on a wave of celebrations in 2017, one of which is HundrED, a bold project that aims to advance and scale innovation in education, initially in Finland but with global ambitions.
The initiative began in late 2015 when Finnish schools and educators were invited to submit their ideas for experiments to be trialed over the course of one school year. More than 700 hundred schools and organizations applied and in April last year, the successful applicants were announced and trials have been ongoing across the 2016/17 academic year.
These trials are being rigorously documented, measured and assessed with the overall aim of them being beautifully packaged on the HundrED platform, so that educators anywhere can access them.
The man behind HundrED, Saku Tuominen, who refers to himself as a "recovering TV producer", has, for the last three years, been directing his 25-year experience in creativity and innovation at the education sector. HundrED is the expression of his background in a new arena. He explains the overall vision, "Our goal is to be the deep experts in the world, who know what’s out there [in education innovation], what’s working and which ideas could be scaled."
Tuominen says there is no shortage of innovation in the sector but what is lacking is a way for those ideas and initiatives to be packaged so that they are accessible, easy to follow and furthermore, have a fair chance of spreading.
This platform approach, which effectively amounts to branding, is key to HundrED. Tuominen says, "We aim to make everything beautiful, everything understandable, so that any teacher, in Manchester, in Bangladesh, in Singapore, in San Francisco, can have access to the best education innovations globally. So that they can clearly see what the idea is, what resources are needed, and the dos and don’ts. For us, one key area is recognizing the innovations but just as important is the packaging part."
Finland has long been recognized as having one of the world’s finest education systems, it topped the OECD’s international results table in 2000, 2003 and 2006. The country’s centenary provided the perfect opportunity for an education themed initiative on this scale. Tuominen wanted to create something bold and impactful so pitched his vision to the government and the organization responsible for centenary celebrations, framing HundrED as a way to think about and prepare for the next 100 years of education, creating something better based on the excellence the country already has.
Tuominen says, "The world is changing extremely fast and schools need to change as well, but it’s not an easy task because, all over the world, education is happening in silos. Every country is a silo, every state is a silo, every city is a silo and every school is a silo. There are gatekeepers everywhere, so it is complicated to make change happen.
"Our idea is that there are a huge amount of creative things that happen in classrooms all over the world but the problem is that practically no one knows about them, so, what if our mission is to recognize them, document them, evaluate them and package them in a beautiful, simple way and then help to make them spread?"
With the Finland projects well under way, the organization is now gathering 100 more ideas globally. The intention is for HundrED to be the world’s leading expert on scalable education innovations by 2020. The Finnish initiatives were selected by a 15-person advisory board consisting of some of the best experts in Finnish education. These first 100 ideas are being closely followed and documented. This spring they will be evaluated, improved and packaged for the HundrED platform. The international ideas will follow a similar process.
Ultimately there will be 100 Finnish ideas and 100 international ideas held on the database in such a way that educators can search through the best innovations, ideas that already seem to be working in specific areas—for example, learning disabilities, robotics, or bullying. It’s a free-to-use platform and most of the innovations themselves are free, with a few exceptions in cases where, for instance, software would be needed. It’s also intended that the platform will enable teachers to discuss different ideas and how they have been applied. Tuominen sees HundrED as "a massive co creation platform, so the best teachers, the most forward-thinking teachers, can create something beautiful together."
HundrED, a non-profit, has received significant funding from the Finnish government but also has a handful or corporate sponsors, including mobile gaming company Supercell, OP Financial Group and Finnish tech company, DNA Group. Tuominen is very clear that these brands have nothing to do with the platform’s content and adds HundrED is reluctant to get involved with any companies that have a direct interest in schools. "We want to keep it as clean as possible," he says.
Although compiling and creating this database is clearly of crucial importance, it’s going to be of little use if teachers and educators don’t know it is there. HundrED’s editor in chief, Kate Robinson, explains that this fall the organization will be embarking on a "world tour", staging events and seminars in cities around the world to address this. "We will host events to share our findings, discuss how to successfully introduce innovation into the classroom and schooling systems and announce new HundrED projects," she says. So far events are planned in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Melbourne, Singapore, New Delhi, Doha, Johannesburg, Sao Paulo, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, London, and, of course, Helsinki. Alongside this there will also be a book and five short documentary films.
Robinson, one assumes, has absorbed a great deal of information on the topic of education in her lifetime, since her father is famed education guru Sir Ken Robinson, whose TED Talks challenging conformity and standardized testing in education have been viewed by millions.
Sir Ken was not involved in the concept of HundrED, and does not have a role in running it, although he was interviewed for a part of the platform, called 100 Visions, which shares the views of 100 global change makers in education.
Robinson thinks her father would approve though. "HundrED recognises the need he identifies for changes in education globally and is taking proactive steps to facilitate them," she says and concludes, "It seems that the general consensus across educators and educationalists is that the trouble isn’t so much about identifying exactly what to do as much as how to do it. Our belief is that there are great people out there already doing it, often despite the systemic restraints they operate within, and so we want to shine a spotlight on them with the intent of inspiring others to do the same."