Saunas and education?

Now that I’ve got your attention, this picture is a Google image and, unfortunately, not me or anyone here. The sauna with a view, however, is almost identical to the one I was in this week. After a long day working with others from 12 different countries, it was the perfect tonic. Next, you’re wondering what saunas have to do with education. Well, here is my angle….

Saunas are an important part of Finnish life.  There are just over 5 million people in Finland and an estimated 2 million saunas. Many workplaces include saunas including the University of Helsinki and even the Parliament. In short, saunas are a part of the rich tapestry of a country crowned the best in the world by Newsweek in 2010.

Realistically, saunas are not going to transform other countries into Finland, but the ideas behind the sauna might. A sauna is a place to relax and reflect — more an integral part of living than a luxury. Saunas are a part of the history that makes up Finnish culture and although I’d love to claim that saunas are worth replicating in the UK,  I know it’s not feasible.

After an extremely busy week here in Helsinki sharing and comparing education, culture and procedures from a range of countries, I am reminded how important it is to look at other countries holistically. Saunas may be a part of that whole but recognising the synergy of the parts working together seems to be the key to making any future progress. The Finns have found what works for them and have rejected the global trends of centralisation and perpetual testing. Although they seem to be at the top of their game in PISA results, they are not complacent and are keen improve further and to reach out internationally. This week has been one such outreach exercise which has been exhilerating, enlivening and exhausting. Our group have experienced a winning mixture of talks, walks, retreats, tours, discussions and, of course, the sauna.

Celebrating International Education week should remind us to keep our eyes, ears and minds open to the rich contexts of political, historical and cultural influences that fuel educational change. The sauna is a great equalizer — invigorating and bracing —  just as education should be.

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