Dear friends, dear education innovators,
The purpose of education is to give every child the opportunity and tools to lead the best possible life. This is the most important work in the world. No society nor a city can afford to overlook the impact of your work. Our focus as societies and communities should be to nourish and empower the everyday ordinary work done at schools and celebrate the innovations that highlight its development.
As the world changes, so does the landscape for education. The same tools and understanding we gave our children 50 years ago does not help them to cope with the world we share today. Even though basic values and principles remain un-touched throughout the years our ability to apply them – and if necessary defend them – needs a new kind of understanding.
Last week I was at the Urban20 meeting in Buenos Aires discussing with the leaders of 30 most impactful cities in the world about how to influence the G20 summit and make them understand the role of cities as the solvers of urban issues in the 21st century. In addition to climate change and the future of the labour market we returned to the issue of education over and over again. If cities are the solvers of the global challenges of the future, education most certainly was seen as the tool to achieve this. City leaders from Dallas to Tokyo saw education as the tool – and sometimes the end result – of what we as cities of the future should accomplish. In this family of cities Helsinki stands out as the prime example of how education can decide the faith of a nation. At almost every discussion I was asked to explain how the Finnish education system is able to deliver sustainably excellent results – especially when the nation is so young and after the war the school system was build in a mere 100 years from basic to world class.
My response to many of these questions is that we never aimed to make the best school in the world. We aimed at making the best worst school in the world. The key to the Finnish education success is not to create best top schools for the few, but that even the worst school in Finland is still very good by any standards. The best basic level education available to all was the key to the young nation’s success where people have always been the greatest assets and – due to the small size of the nation – we could not afford to leave anyone behind. Making everyone a contributing member of the society was always a priority.
In Helsinki we aim to create a community of educators. The city depends on their work and their dedication, but we also recognize the challenges that lie ahead. Digitalization, new position of the media, cultural shifts and a world where trust is challenged every day make the work of educators increasingly demanding. As a city Helsinki has committed itself to the defending of modern democratic values. The guiding principle of this work is to create a community based on trust. Education is one of the greatest tools there is to create trust among people, organizations and leaders. When a city is build on trust, people are able to go after their dreams, teachers are empowered to develop the teaching tools needed and children are freed to be children – to learn, play and create in peace.
Helsinki also wants to share its successes -and sometimes its failures – to the global community. Forums like this are important as spending time face-to-face is becoming a luxury. Last year the first ever HundrEd Innovation Summit was organized for 150 global education innovators from over 30 countries. Today I am happy to see this concept grow into the Helsinki Education Week. This inaugural five-day summit showcases excellence and equity in Finnish education with over 100 events across the city. Helsinki is a fitting home to discus innovations at schools – especially here tonight where we can first hand experience one of the greatest innovations of all times – free school lunch for all.
Innovation cannot thrive in a vacuum. Sharing is what makes us stronger and empowered to forward development of the world through our children. I am confident that in whatever way the world will go forward in the future the people in this room are the key to our survival.
Welcome to the most impactful place to learn, welcome to Helsinki.