FinlandWay® have been active in the UAE this year as part of a strategic growth plan within the GCC region. With FinlandWay nurseries on track to open in Oman and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2023, FinlandWay®’s search for a local Abu Dhabi pilot partner started in early 2022
The company was selected amongst a competitive global pool of candidates to be a part of the Anjal Z Masschallenge Programme, which facilitates pilots and proof of concepts in Abu Dhabi for growth-stage Early Childhood Development startups. The annual programme is initiated by The Abu Dhabi Early Childhood Authority (ECA) in partnership with The Abu Dhabi Investment Office.
Orange Seeds is a Montessori inspired British curriculum nursery in Abu Dhabi. It is based on the 7 EYFS learning areas, where the Montessori philosophy is applied, whilst implementing the curriculum.
Orange Seeds Nursery was selected as FinlandWay®’s pilot partner for their shared mission and principles of promoting children’s wellbeing through play-based learning. While we already shared these important values, there were still lots to learn from each other.
“The whole objective of the pilot was to learn from one another; for our pilot school to learn about the Finnish early childhood methodologies and for us to get familiar with this new market prior to our first full FinlandWay® School opening with the right partner”
says Marika Puoutiainen, FinlandWay®’s Head of Operations currently residing in the UAE opening the FinlandWay® MENA office and managing the pilot.
The six-week pilot ran from early April to late June. It started with a hands-on teacher training in location with a FinlandWay® pedagogical expert from the University of Helsinki. Laura Ketonen trained the selected Orange Seeds’ teachers through all the basics of the Finnish early childhood education methods and the FinlandWay® pillars of pedagogy, as well as the content and structure to be expected.
Other important parts of the FinlandWay® pilot programme included communication with parents through the FinlandWay® mobile application, evaluation of the development and how the classroom should be adapted throughout the period and activities.
During the pilot period, a class of 3-4 year old children at Orange Seeds got to take part in a specifically curated FinlandWay® project, which included learning about dinosaurs, fairytales and robotics. Learning goals varied from social- to cognitive- and motor-artistic skills.
FinlandWay®’s participatory and play-based approach to learning helped the children at Orange Seeds further develop their communication and negotiation skills during the six-week pilot.
“We feel the children have benefitted from the group work approach. It has helped them to communicate and negotiate in order to work on similar tasks or group oriented tasks. They have begun to show more awareness of their classmates, and begun to co participate with an activity their mates are working on”
summarises Shehla Khan, Orange Seeds’ Regional Director.
Khan further says that they plan to keep some of the practices they learnt during the pilot period beyond the project.
“Increasing movement within the class is beneficial to the children, if initiated towards goal oriented activities. Children can work in groups to analyse, assess and negotiate. We intend to keep these practices in the FS1 class”.
FinlandWay®’s approach to classroom design, how it can and should be multi-purpose and adjustable, was an important learning for the pilot school. Staff at Orange Seeds found it helpful to realise a classroom can be used for movement-based activities instead of the traditional learning around chairs and tables. They also found different viewpoints to the concepts of maths, measurement, personal and social development.
As per the objective of the UAE pilot, there were some valuable lessons for FinlandWay® too. With the direct feedback received from the teachers and management at Orange Seeds, it was possible to make the offering more suitable to the market and make changes to some of the existing practices.
“We now believe that we have a very exciting and viable offering and an opportunity for the right partners in the region. The next step for us is to find a partner or partners that can bring FinlandWay® to as many countries and cities in the area as possible. Our work has only begun”
concludes Marika Poutiainen.