Tea Byholm, a teacher of English at Suutarila Comprehensive School Upper Stage (Suutarilan yläasteen koulu), describes the experience of her own school in running international projects. She highlights the ICT-based collaborative projects, which may help develop European dimension at school and enhance both pupils’ and teachers’ skills.
According to the curriculum of Suutarila Comprehensive School Upper Stage, the main principle for all activity is to give the pupils skills and knowledge they will need in society and in their further studies. This is achieved by good quality standard education, by enforcing individuality and self-esteem as well as physical and mental welfare of the pupils. Using and developing new educational methods and offering the pupils a wider European as well as an international perspective on their studies are important at our school. Being a language teacher as well as the coordinator of international affairs at our school from the very beginning i.e. for almost 15 years I have been able to follow the development very closely.
Suutarila Comprehensive School Upper Stage (http://www.suutyl.edu.hel.fi/en/index.html) is one of the pioneering schools in Finland of having international contacts and working closely with other European schools. We had been involved in some small scale projects before but in the spring of 1996 our pupils and staff had the real touch of European dimension when Finland hosted the annual meeting of students and teachers from all EU countries “Europe ‘96 History and Science”. During one week, we were one of the three schools opening our homes and school to almost 150 pupils and teachers and giving them the possibility of getting acquainted with the Finnish school system, everyday life and culture. After this successful meeting, our pupils, their parents and members of the staff started asking for more.
During the last ten years we have, for example, taken part in several Youth Forums in Luxembourg, been to Euroscola in Strasbourg, participated several times in Europe Day and Young Talents as a whole school, had a Finnish MEP at our school for Spring Day 2003 and been the co-ordinating school of a successful Socrates Comenius project “European & National Identity; history and traditions”. In order to give our school even a wider perspective on the European dimension we also decided to get involved in the teacher and teacher trainee exchange programmes in the beginning of this decade. In the recent years, Suutarila Comprehensive School Upper Stage has more and more concentrated on virtual internet projects as they give more pupils and staff the possibility of getting involved.
In the beginning, before we had the access or the knowledge to use ICT efficiently, most of the work was done in the traditional way and sent to the project partners by snail mail and fax. Later, when the use of ICT became an every day thing in most of the subjects at our school for both the pupils and the teachers, the contacts from earlier years of European networking made it possible to start more demanding and complex cross-curricular projects in many of the school subjects.
These projects have made it possible for the pupils • to use foreign languages in a sensible context in language lessons as well as in the other school subjects; • to improve their ICT skills and to use new learning methods; • to look at their own country as well as Europe and the rest of the world from a new perspective. • to get information about the past and present of other countries, their culture, the everyday life of the youth; • to make new friends across the world.
These projects have also made it possible for the teachers • to develop, test and use new learning methods and to use ICT in a wider context; • to do integrated class work with teachers of other subjects and with pupils on different grade levels; • to improve their foreign language skills; • to get acquainted with school systems and teaching methods in other countries and in this way also get new ideas to apply to in their own teaching.
Even though running projects takes a lot of time and effort and they are sometimes very difficult to fit into the curriculum, I think that they enforce the individuality and improve the self-esteem of the pupils. In addition to this, they also offer both the pupils and the teachers the European as well as the international perspective that is needed in today’s world.