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As Finland adjusts to remote learning, some want changes to stick

Some rural communities want online classes to carry over after school resumes.

Susanne Ojaniemi opettaa luokkaansa etäyhteyden välityksellä.
Teachers and students in Finland have been adapting to online lessons. Image: Jarkko Riikonen / Yle

While many families are waiting for Finland to ease emergency measures and reopen schools, some sparsely-populated municipalities say they want primary-level remote learning to continue.

Current rules on distance learning call for a teacher being present at both ends of a connection. In other words, a professional should be physically on hand to assist a pupil who is engaging in remote learning at home.

“It would be good to ease restrictions on distance learning so pupils could learn from home on some days and at school on others,” said Terhi Päivärinta from the Association of Finnish Municipalities.

Päivärinta told Yle recent weeks have demonstrated students are studying very well on their own.

“The last few weeks have proven that remote learning works,” she said.

School travel swallows time, money

Loosening restrictions would make it easier for small municipalities to provide education, according to Päivärinta. Half of Finland’s 310 municipalities have fewer than 6,000 inhabitants. This means many children spend hours every weekday travelling back and forth to school far away from their home.

“From the pupil’s perspective, this would cut travel time and save the municipality money that’s paying for commuting. These funds could instead be targeted towards developing distance learning,” Päivärinta suggested.

As an example, Loppi, in southern Finland, spent 682,000 euros on school rides for some 400 pupils last year, accounting for ten percent of the municipality's education budget.

In addition to shortening commutes and saving money, distance learning is also more environmentally friendly, according to Mika Silvennoinen, Loppi's education and culture director.

Päivärinta envisions kids working from home one to two days and having contact education the rest of the week. She said that in the future, schools will increasingly centralise into larger units as the countryside empties and generations shrink.

A legislative change is, however, necessary for remote learning to continue after emergency measures end.

Teacher trade union OAJ has so far been lukewarm about the prospect of opening up distance education for young kids--despite the Association of Finnish Municipalities' lobbying on the matter for years. That said, the Ministry of Education has not indicated willingness to propose any changes to current laws.

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