“Safeguarding children’s rights has been the aim of the authorities,” says Jussi Tanner of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland.
Since May 2020, The Finnish Lifelong Learning Foundation’s (Kvs Foundation) Kulkuri School of Distance Education has been offering Finnish-language distance education to Finnish children living in the al-Hol refugee camp in Syria. The initiative for organising the education came from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland and has been funded by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture.
The education has been voluntary and all those wishing to attend have been able to do so. The children were contacted through their mothers’ telephones. The motivation, support and guidance of the mothers has been important to the success of the distance education. The children have also been motivated and willing to take part in learning.
The aim of the education has been children’s integration into Finnish society.
Kulkuri has the most extensive experience, in Finland, of organising distance education for Finnish children living abroad. It has been developed to a very high pedagogical level and even works in extremely exceptional circumstances. Kulkuri is operated by the Kvs Foundation.
“The education of children in such a vulnerable position has required continuous development and the use of new, innovative solutions. The Foundation has almost 150 years’ experience in promoting educational equality. Furthermore, we have been developing distance education for 100 years and school of distance education for 45 years. Our long and extensive experience and best practices in Finnish teaching and pedagogy were now put to good use,” says Lauri Tuomi, CEO of the foundation.
Children have a basic right to education
According to the Finnish Constitution, the Finnish authorities have a duty to safeguard the basic rights of Finnish children in refugee camps where it is possible to do so. The right to education is one of the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
“The Finnish children at Al-hol have not received any kind of education, which seriously jeopardises their chances of living normal lives in the future. A child’s place is at school. The best way to safeguard the basic rights of these children is to repatriate them to Finland. The local government was, however, delaying such repatriations. The Finnish authorities have therefore tried to safeguard the rights of the child in other ways,” says Jussi Tanner, special envoy of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
The Kulkuri School of Distance Education is all about participation and co-development. Teaching has been organised in close interaction with the children’s mothers. Each child is offered learning exercises that are tailored to their own needs as much as possible, based on their age and skill levels.
“The children are living in a multicultural and multilingual environment, and some of them have not been able to attend school for years or to hear the Finnish language almost at all. For example, the pupils have not known the words for many things familiar to us, because their lives have been so different. This has been one of the greatest challenges of the distance education from the perspective of the teachers. The education has also produced results: the children’s skills in Finnish and mathematics have improved, and moments of joy were experienced in January when a six-year-old pupil learned to read in Finnish,” says School Director Tuija Tammelander.
Groundbreaking work by the teachers
Distance education guarantees the implementation of a child’s rights even under exceptional circumstances.
“A period of distance education conducted by Kulkuri School of Distance Education is a valuable addition to ensuring that the integration of Finnish children succeeds. The children have been forced to live under extreme conditions. The first steps on the path of learning give them a solid foundation for a safe and secure future,” says Anita Lehikoinen, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education and Culture.
Jussi Tanner considers the distance education a success.
“The work of the teachers has been first-class and groundbreaking. Even minor daily contact with a Finnish school builds an indispensable routine in a camp environment, a connection with Finnish society and a perspective on the future. The long-term commitment of the families to school attendance indicates that integration into Finnish society is possible.”
How distance education at al-Hol was organised
- The Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Education and Culture were responsible for implementing the teaching.
- The Kvs Foundation’s Kulkuri School of Distance Learning provided the service. It was funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture.
- The costs were about 200,000 euros, most of which was used to cover salary expenses of teachers and school management.
- Teaching was given in Finnish, mathematics, environmental studies and, for the older children, also in English.
- The particular aim of the distance education was to strengthen the children’s basic skills in reading, writing and mathematics.
- The children were given knowledge about Finnish culture, school, society and nature.
- The development work is in line with the objectives set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Kvs Foundation, CEO Lauri Tuomi, +358 50 47 69 977, lauri.tuomi(a)kvs.fi
Kulkuri School of Distance Education, School Director Tuija Tammelander, +358 50 3833 969, tuija.tammelander(a)kvs.fi
Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Special Representative Jussi Tanner, +358 295 350 246
Ministry of Education and Culture, Permanent Secretary Anita Lehikoinen, +358 295 330 182