Finland's education success opens new business niches
Arttu Laasonen, co-founder of Finnish start-up 10monkeys -- which aims to make maths more fun for primary school pupils with its smiling monkey apps, poses at the firm's Helsinki headquarters on January 10, 2014 - by Pauline Curtet
Helsinki-based start-up 10monkeys, created in 2012, has turned the efficient image of the Finnish school system into one of its main business assets.
Its smartphone and tablet application makes maths more amusing for primary students thanks to its smiling monkeys, and its user-friendly and colourful design.
"In the Middle East, for example, our clients are interested in us because we're Finnish," said Arttu Laasonen, co-founder of the company, which has sold its app to thousands of users in Britain, the United States, Australia and Saudi Arabia.
"We don't even need to mention it, they know it already."
Finland built its global reputation in the 2000s, when it dominated the OECD's Pisa ranking, which compares the performance of students from some 60 countries in standardised tests.
After being visited by experts and journalists from all over the world, the country's formula became a reference: an increased value of the teaching profession, an egalitarian approach and a gentle and non-elitist teaching method.
Some one hundred Finnish companies like 10monkeys have benefitted from this recognition to export their products, mostly educational games and apps for touchscreens.
The industry also gets direct help from the education system.
"Being in Finland has also helped us create our app," Laasonen explained.
"We've been able to work with a renowned maths teacher who shared his methods with us, and then we were able to test them at Finnish schools."
In 2010, the government launched Future Learning Finland, a programme that promotes the country's "educational know-how and learning solutions globally".
Several higher education institutions have also jumped on the bandwagon, like the University of Helsinki, which offers a training programme for foreign teachers.
"Many groups come to Helsinki for one or two weeks," said Kirsi Kettula, head of Education Export at the University of Helsinki.
"They attend courses on the Finnish education system and visit some schools."
South Korea, which ranked higher than Finland in the latest Pisa report published last December, is among the countries that have taken part in the programme.
"We don't even need to advertise our programmes, our clients contact us directly, because they know about Finland's reputation," Kettula added.
The Nordic country, which currently faces increasing budgetary restraints, fell in the Pisa report's maths score from the 6th position in 2009 to the 12th last year.
Despite equality being one of the grounds of the Finnish education system, social inequality has a growing impact on the students' performance.
"It's a little early to say if this ranking will have negative consequences for us," Kettula said.
"We're still among the best and our system still attracts the attention of Asian countries, even if they rank better than us on Pisa, because we're different from them."
Others see this as an opportunity for Finnish companies to improve sales in a market that has remained rather aloof: Finland.
"Until now, high-tech companies sold their educational products abroad, but not in Finland," said Ministry of Education adviser Esa Suominen.
"If the results don't remain that high, Finland will have to look for new solutions for its schools, and these companies could then suggest methods they have already developed and see them implemented in their country of origin."