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Policy Evaluation in Finland: Mapping the Effects of Education Policy for the Ministry of Education

One of my main research projects in Finland has been assessing the impacts and effectiveness of the LUMA Centre’s Development Project. As I discussed in an earlier post, the Finnish Ministry of Education has provided the LUMA Centre with a grant to support in-service teachers across Finland by developing and implementing new, interdisciplinary STEM curriculum. This program was created as part of shifting focus of Finnish education policy towards phenomenon-based learning.

For context, there are 37 different projects, all of which have been created through collaborations between Finnish university researchers and in-service teachers during the Development Phase of the project (2014-2016). Each project is some form of professional development opportunity for teachers–such as an in-person training event, a MOOC, or a longer term in-person course. These projects are now being implemented in municipalities across Finland, with the goal of reaching teachers in 80% of those municipalities by 2019.

In addition to academic research papers I am working on to assess this program, I also wanted to create some sort of visual report of the regional reach of the program so far. Last Fall, the LUMA Program Coordinator and I created a survey instrument to collect the necessary data from each project, and last month, I put together a series of interactive maps to highlight our findings.

Last Monday, I had the opportunity to present these findings to the members of the Finnish Ministry of Education and associated government organizations who are responsible for and/or are in some way invested in the program. This was a really eye-opening glance at what policy evaluation looks like in the Finnish context and an exciting opportunity to see the impact of my work on the development of national policy.

The meeting started with an overview of the program and the LUMA Centre. Before my presentation, another representative from the LUMA Centre led the group in a traditional activity that a math-focused project of the Development Project might do with K-12 students. Pictured below, you can see one group shortly after they were assigned the task–to use the red papers in front of them and some tape to create an open container capable of holding the largest volume of dried peas (a lesson in surface area, volume, etc.).

I think this picture helps highlight just how engaging this activity was for the representatives from the Ministry. I was really impressed by how introducing this activity, an exercise traditionally designed for young students, to members of the Ministry of Education made the program that they are working to support a lot more personal. So often when I speak to K-12 teachers in the US, they are understandably frustrated by how detached by education policymakers can be from what actually happens within classroom. This exercise was a really great example of how to make vast programs like LUMA’s project more tangible to policymakers.

After this activity, I had a chance to present my maps. Preparing for this presentation was my first time working with the mapping software ArcGIS after teaching myself how to use it last Fall, and I was surprised by how much more insight one can get from actually visualizing this sort of data in this way.

Using the maps, we were able to identify which regions and municipalities are doing the best in terms of teachers reached (relative to total number of schools/students in those areas) and which areas are critical to address if we wish to reach the goal of 80% reach by 2019. The maps have also proved critical in identifying barriers to implementation for particular regions or municipalities and brainstorming ways to address those barriers.

Moving forward, LUMA will be sharing these maps with teachers involved in the program in order to allow them to better target their own local efforts in reaching more teachers in the areas that need these projects the most.

Working on these maps for the last month and then actually using them to inform how this program will move forward for the next two years has been a really interesting dive into the world of Finnish policy implementation. I have always been interested in questions of education access in the US, and I typically think of potential inequalities in terms of race, gender, socioeconomic status, etc. Working on these maps has given me a chance to think more about the impact of regional inequalities in education access.

In the context of Finland, the same educational innovations that have made their education system famous internationally do not always directly reach all students in more rural settings, so this has pushed me to think more about what these potential regional inequalities mean for the nation as a whole.

To see the full Story Map I made, click here.

Heads up to my non-Finnish speaking readers: I worked with the LUMA Program Coordinator to translate my analysis to Finnish, so the full webpage is in Finnish. I am happy to translate any of it back to English for anyone interested!


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