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Posts Tagged ‘finland’

Photo: Pekka Sipola/EPA
Finland is experimenting with a guaranteed income.

Recently I posted about a guaranteed-income pilot program in Kenya that MIT’s rigorously data-driven Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) will be evaluating over the next few years.

Now I see that Finland is testing the concept, too.

Aditya Chakrabortty wrote about Finland’s experiment last month at the Guardian. “In a speck of a village deep in the Finnish countryside, a man gets money for free. Each month, almost €560 [about $660] is dropped into his bank account, with no strings attached. The cash is his to use as he wants. Who is his benefactor? The Helsinki government.”

Juha Järvinen “is a human lab rat in an experiment that could help to shape the future of the west. Last Christmas, Järvinen was selected by the state as one of 2,000 unemployed people for a trial of universal basic income [UBI]. …

“Finland is the first European country to launch a major dry run. It is not the purists’ UBI – which would give everyone, even billionaires, a monthly sum. Nor will Finland publish any results until the two-year pilot is over at the end of 2018. …

“Ask Järvinen what difference money for nothing has made to his life, and you are marched over to his workshop. Inside is film-making equipment, a blackboard on which is scrawled plans for an artists’ version of Airbnb, and an entire little room where he makes shaman drums that sell for up to €900. All this while helping to bring up six children. All those free euros have driven him to work harder than ever.”

Even more than the money, the freedom from the country’s welfare bureaucracy is key.

“In Finland, €560 is less than a fifth of average private-sector income. … [Järvinen’s] liberation came in the lack of conditions attached to the money. If they so wish, Finns on UBI can bank the cash and do nothing else. But, in Järvinen’s case at least, the sum has removed the fear of utter destitution, freeing him to do work he finds meaningful. …

“Social affairs minister Pirkko Mattila … seems genuinely bemused that there could be any political resistance to handing poor people some money to sit at home. ‘I personally believe that in Finland citizens really want to work,’ she says.”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Janne Körkkö for the New York Times
A team from Vihti, Finland, competing in the country’s 20th annual Swamp Soccer World Championships. Their mascot, a badger doll, is the one in the cage.

Gotta love those Finns. They have possibly the best education system in the world and all those unusual contests like wife carrying and cellphone tossing. Long, dark winters must make for desperate ideas about how to have fun in summer.

Andrew Keh writes at the New York Times, “There’s something strange going on in Finland. Over the past few decades, as it has all but disappeared from the global sports stage, this humble Nordic nation has sort of lost its sports mind.

“More than 2,000 people ventured to the remote backwaters of central Finland recently for the 20th annual Swamp Soccer World Championships. If you and your spouse want to compete in the Wife Carrying World Championships, you must come to Finland. The Mobile Phone Throwing World Championships? Finland. The World Berry Picking Championship and the Air Guitar World Championships? Finland and Finland.

“ ‘We have some weird hobbies,’ said Paivi Kemppainen, 26, a staff member at the swamp soccer competition and master of the understatement.

“Just look at swamp soccer in Hyrynsalmi, a place where Jetta can achieve a small level of celebrity over the years. Jetta is a stuffed badger ensconced in a bird cage. She acts as a mascot of sorts for a team of 12 friends who make the seven-hour drive each year from Vihti, near Helsinki, for the competition. They bought the doll seven years ago from a junk store at a highway rest stop, and her fame around the swamp has grown ever since. A couple of years ago, she was interviewed by a local newspaper. …

“On Saturday morning … a bottle of vodka was being passed around (their preferred way, apparently, of warming up). It was about 10 o’clock. Soon it would be time for their first game of the day. They set Jetta aside and stripped off their outerwear, revealing skimpy blue wrestling singlets.

“Before they treaded into the mud, they were asked a question: Why?

“ ‘You can say you’re world champions of swamp soccer,’ said Matti Paulavaara, 34, one of the team members, after a contemplative pause. ‘How many can say that?’

“The genesis of swamp soccer was in 1998, when creative town officials in Hyrynsalmi cooked up a festival-like event that would make use of the area’s vast swamplands. Thirteen teams showed up for the first tournament. Since then, the competitive field has grown to about 200 teams. …

“People striding on seemingly firm ground would disappear suddenly into the soft earth, as if descending a stairway. Some tottered on their hands and knees, like babies. Others stood still, until they were waist-deep in muck. The scores were generally low. Many of the players were drunk. …

You play, you lose, you win — no one cares,’ said Sami Korhonen, 25, of Kajaani, who was playing in the tournament for the ninth time. ‘The whole game is so tough, you’re totally wiped out when you’re done.’ ”

More at the New York Times, here.

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Photo: Taught by Finland
Taught by Finland promotes a play-centered approach to early education and writes loving posts about “the joyful, illiterate kindergartners of Finland.”

On Facebook, I’ve been following Taught by Finland, which highlights the Finnish approach to education (e.g., lots of playtime for young children) and posts links to related research and stories.

In higher grades, Finns usually outrank American students by a lot on standardized tests. That may have multiple causes, but it seems reasonable to ask what Finland is doing right and what would happen if American schools were to lighten up.

A school in Burlington, Vermont, is beginning to get answers to that question.

Nicole Higgins DeSmet writes at the Burlington Free Press, “Five months after a no-homework policy went into effect, Orchard Elementary parents report that after-school reading is flourishing.

” ‘We have a first grader, and at her age it’s as much a chore for the parents as the kids,’ parent Rani Philip said about homework. ‘Instead we’ve been spending time reading. We don’t have to rush.’

“Philip said her husband was skeptical, but now he’s convinced. Other parents who were surprised by the policy said their children are reading more. …

“[Kindergartner Sean Conway] hid behind his dad’s legs but managed to share that his solo literary conquest was the book ‘Spirit Animals.’

“Teachers at Orchard voted unanimously before the start of the school year to end homework for their kindergarten through fifth-grade students. Instead students are encouraged to read, play games and be kids.

“Orchard Principal Mark Trifilio sent a homework policy survey to parents in November. Of those parents, 254 sent back answers. About 80 percent indicated they agree with the policy.

“Parents reported in the survey concern that their fifth-graders might miss skills that will help them succeed in middle school. …

“Lolly Bliss, a fifth-grade teacher with 25 years experience, said her students will be prepared to accomplish more because they are freed from busywork — which is how she defined some homework.

“She has more time to accomplish academic goals in class because she doesn’t have to spend time on kids’ and parents’ anxieties about missing or incomplete homework.

” ‘We get a lot done in a calm class,’ Bliss said.”

If you read the rest of the story, you’ll see that some parents fear children are missing needed skills. They may not take into account how difficult it is to learn if you are stressed. I hope someone will tell those parents about Finland.

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Photo: Imgur
Juuso makes art by rolling in paint. Sales of his paintings help animals who, like him, have been orphaned.

This orphaned brown bear is helping to raise money for the Finnish center that rescued him. And he’s not riding a unicycle like a circus bear. He’s doing something he apparently really likes: Art.

Jussi Rosendahl and Attila Cser report at Reuters, “The artist behind the exhibition entitled ‘Strong and soft touches’ is a 423-kilogram (930 pound) brown bear named Juuso who uses his body, especially his paws, as paintbrushes.

” ‘We just leave paint for him, some plywood and paper … If we ask him to do it, he doesn’t do anything. He does all the work in his own time, when he’s alone, sitting and moving his legs on the paper,’ said Pasi Jantti, one of his keepers.

“Juuso, who is 17 years old, favors blue and red, the keeper said, adding that the paints used posed no health risk to the bear.

“His keepers discovered Juuso’s artistic bent one day while painting some facilities at Kuusamo animal center in northern Finland where he has been living since being orphaned as a cub.

” ‘Juuso got some paint in his paws and started to make marks with them. We noticed that he liked it,’ Jantti said.”

Read more at Reuters, here.

I have to hand it to keepers who noticed what the bear enjoyed, let him do it, and thought up a way it could help other animals in their care.

Photo: The Independent
Two Juuso originals that have already sold.

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The Atlantic magazine says Estonia is the new Finland, meaning that it is doing a bang-up job with quality education for all. Educating the poor turns out to be a salient strength of the system.

Sarah Butrymowicz writes, “In 2012, Estonia’s 15-year-olds ranked 11th in math and reading and sixth in science out of the 65 countries that participated in an international test that compares educational systems from around the world (called the Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA).

“In addition to beating out western nations such as France and Germany and essentially tying Finland in math and science, Estonia also had the smallest number of weak performers in all of Europe, about 10 percent in math and reading and 5 percent in science.”

In comparison, the United States hovers in the middle of the pack.

“While there is less income inequality in Estonia than in the United States—and, with 1.3 million people, the country is significantly smaller—the Baltic nation also has its share of cultural diversity.

“When it achieved independence from the Soviet Union 25 years ago, Estonian became the official language and the language of school instruction. Yet about a fifth of its students come from families that still speak Russian at home, and they have historically lagged behind their native speaking counterparts on tests such as PISA. …

“Marc Tucker, president of National Center on Education and the Economy in Washington, D.C., visited Estonia last year to find out what they’re doing right. He said that after the fall of the Iron Curtain other former Soviet satellites, such as Hungary and the Czech Republic, transitioned to a system preferentially suited to the needs of its elites. Estonia, however, kept giving equal opportunities to students of all backgrounds. …

“There are many factors that may contribute to Estonia’s success on PISA beyond their focus on equality. Education continues to be highly valued. Teacher autonomy is relatively high, which has been shown to be related to better test scores. Teachers stay with the same students in grades one to three – or sometimes even up to sixth grade – allowing deep relationships to develop.”

Maybe we could learn something from this small Baltic state. Read more here about why Estonian students are so successful on tests and whether they are happy with the system and why the country is trying to encourage more individuality and creativity without losing rigor.

Photo: Ints Kalnins / Reuters
First graders take a computer class in Tallinn, Estonia.

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A New York Times article that was widely shared yesterday detailed how eager many Canadians are to welcome refugees. Enthusiastic, sometimes a bit bossy, they are volunteering in droves to make a difference in the lives of anxious families who have been through the mill.

It reminded me of other welcome stories I’ve been collecting. Small towns, in particular, seem to feel they could benefit from welcoming refugees.

On Nagu, a remote island on the southwest tip of Finland, migrants have found open arms.

Giles Duley writes in the Guardian, “From the start, the people of Nagu made their guests feel welcome. A Facebook group was set up, activities suggested, volunteers came forward. ‘It was exciting,’ says Mona Hemmer, a bastion of Nagu life and one of the organisers of activities for the refugees. …

“Of course, for the refugees, being busy does not erase their past or the uncertainty of their future. … Many still find it hard to sleep, aware that until their asylum applications have been processed, they have not reached the end of their journey.

“However, the warm welcome of the Nagu people has made a difference. And despite their initial reservations, the islanders now feel that it is the refugees who have brought them something.”  More.

In this Al Jazeera story by Thomas Bruckner, refugees are reviving faded Italian villages.

“The village of Riace had seen its population drop from 2,500 to 400 since the 1990s, when people moved to northern Italy for better economic opportunities.

“Domenico Lucano, Mayor of Riace, saw the flow of refugees in Italy as an opportunity. ‘We have been welcoming refugees with open arms for the past 15 years. [They have] saved our village,’ Lucano explained.

“The resourceful mayor first acted on this opportunity in 1998, when a boat with 218 Kurdish refugees on their way to Greece got stranded on a beach in Riace. This is when Lucano first proposed that the refugees should stay in the village and take over the homes and apartments that had been left vacant by the migrating former residents of the town.

“The mayor helped to facilitate the integration by establishing a ‘refugees welcome’ project, which is now spreading through neighbouring towns.”

Here’s a PBS story by Jason M. Breslow about a small town in Germany that wants more population. “With Goslar’s population shrinking by around 2,000 people per year as young people flee to bigger cities and older residents die, [Mayor Oliver] Junk sees refugees as key to the town’s future.

“ ‘Europeans must welcome and integrate refugees, accepting that they are not a burden but a great opportunity,’ Junk wrote in an op-ed published last month in the policy journal Europe’s World.”

The mayor has also said, “Anyone who tells me Germany is full up, or that we can’t afford them, I say think of our past, and of the future. Of course we can afford them – we’re a rich country, and we have a duty to help those in need.’ ” More from PBS.

And here’s a story closer to home. Brian MacQuarrie writes at the Boston Globe about Rutland, Vermont, and its interest in refugees.

“Mayor Christopher Louras has unveiled a plan, developed in near-secrecy, to resettle 100 Syrian refugees who fled the onslaught of the Islamic State and are exiled in sprawling Jordanian camps. …

“Most residents appear ready to welcome the refugees, mindful of the harrowing images of Syrians desperately seeking refuge outside their ravaged country….

“ ‘The benefits, economically and culturally, that we will recognize is exactly what the community needs at this time,’ said Louras, the grandson of a Greek immigrant who fled the Ottoman Turks a century ago. ‘As much as I want to say it’s for compassionate reasons, I realize that there is not a vibrant, growing, successful community in the country right now that is not embracing new Americans.’ ” More at the Globe.

Photo: Giles Duley/UNCHR
Volunteers from Nagu, a small island in Finland, laugh with refugees during a New Year’s Eve concert put on by local musicians.

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In Helsinki, Finland, where young people traditionally leave home at 18 but can no longer afford urban rents, Millennials are applying by the hundreds to live with the elderly.

According to Kae Lani Kennedy at Matador Network, “Retirement homes are serving as more than a community for the elderly. These facilities are providing affordable housing for the city’s growing population of homeless millennials.

“ ‘It’s almost like a dorm, but the people aren’t young. They’re old,’ explains Emil Bostrom, a participant in ‘A Home That Fits,’ a new housing project that allows millennials to move into retirement communities. Bostrom is a 24-year-old kindergarten teacher, and though he has a steady income, it is not enough to compete with 90,000 other renters in a city that has roughly 60,000 affordable rental properties. …

“Bostrom, along with many other young adults, can enjoy discounted rent in exchange for socializing with the seniors in their community. …

“By interacting with a younger generation, the elderly involved with ‘A Home That Fits’ have the opportunity to be engaged in an active and diverse community, instead of being left behind in a forgotten generation.” More here.

And check out a post I wrote about the same phenomenon in Cleveland, here. Both initiatives sound like fun to me.

Video: Seeker Stories

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