Children created spaces with HEI Schools in Helsinki Design Week

HEI Schools participated Helsinki Design Week with a creative space design workshop in September. Children were inspired and encouraged to build and shape spaces based on their own wishes and perspectives.

When adults design and build spaces for children, the starting point is often functionality (How many shoes will fit? How to keep this clean?) or assumptions of what children usually like (bright colours, cheerful comic characters). Spaces designed for children, such as kindergartens and schools, are often saturated with visual noise, colours and lots of different type of stimuli. But how do children build and shape spaces when they can decide for themselves?

The workshop in Helsinki Design Week was part of HEI Schools’ larger ongoing project to study how children view, shape and build spaces. Physical space plays an important role in HEI Schools concept. It takes the functional aspects of everyday life in kindergarten into consideration but it also has an important role in enhancing children’s curiosity and creativity. Rich learning environment should encourage children to wonder, question, explore and experiment.

A space becomes a place when persons take it and shapes it according to their wishes, views and needs. At the core of HEI Schools is to promote children’s active participation and agency. By giving children opportunities to be part of a decision making and building processes HEI Schools aims to enhance their sense of competence, ownership and commitment. The experience of agency is thus of great significance for the shaping of a child’s identity: who s/he is and who s/he wants to be.   Place-making also provide children the opportunity to boost their well-being by control their moods and emotions according to daily needs. Instead of making spaces for children, HEI Schools wants to make children’s places.

Children should be active users and shapers of the spaces. If we promote open ended toys, we should also enhance open ended spaces. The creative mind is a playful mind.

First HEI Schools pilot kindergarten is open!

The first model kindergarten of HEI Schools opened the doors in the city of Baotou, North China.

HEI Schools and the City of Baotou have been working in close co-operation since early 2017 to bring the first ever full scale Finnish kindergarten concept to China. The interest for international education, especially for early childhood years, is growing fast in China. Baotou, having a progressive city planning and education bureau, saw potential in HEI Schools concept, and bringing an international alternative to the market.

City of Baotou had been following the success story of Finnish school system and got interested in HEI Schools as it offers a very high-quality model to operate.

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“The project has been an extremely intensive effort for both parties. We have been working together with talented pedagogical and design professionals to make this all come true in very tight schedule and it feels amazing now to see the children, families, and teachers enjoying the beautiful school and making it a real learning and growing environment. University of Helsinki has had a profound input to the concept and project through its excellence in early education research and teacher training”, Milla Kokko, CEO, HEI Schools.

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Project also included full scale design and renovation work for all learning spaces inside and outside of the building. Building of 4500 m2 underwent a total makeover during the summer of 2017.

“We are happy to see that we can have a piece of Finland here in Baotou. The kindergarten spaces are so inspiring for both children and teachers. In a unique way, it combines the space and the pedagogy, while all the details are designed to support the child’s development.” Mrs. Hu, Chinese principal in HEI Schools Baotou. Design was produced together with Finnish architect agencies Collaboratorio and MER Arkkitehdit alongside with furniture designer Milla Vaahtera.

HEI Baotou kindergarten opens with a highly motivated Finnish-Chinese teacher team. “Our team has been working together since May, when ten of our Chinese teacher colleagues came to Finland for a five week teacher training period, including 2 weeks interning in Finnish kindergartens. We have a talented team and we all are excited to welcome the children and their families to our new HEI Kindergarten.” Sirpa Lassila, Finnish Principal in HEI Schools Baotou. Finnish kindergarten teachers will stay in Baotou until Jan 2019.

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HEI Schools Baotou:

Children: 3-6 years old, maximum 300 students

Teachers: Finnish and Chinese Principals, 9 Chinese Kindergarten Teachers, 4 Finnish Kindergarten Teachers  

Families: Middle class / upper middle class families interested in international education. Paying tuition fee. 

Language: Chinese and English. English as a working language for all teachers and as “language shower” for children

Building: 4500m2 indoor space + large outdoor facilities. Gone through a total renovation process during summer, 2017

Operator: Private Kindergarten operator, 100% owned by the City of Baotou

Concept and license provider: Helsinki International Schools Group (HEI Schools)

HEI Crew is now stronger, bigger and better!

HEI Schools team has got stronger, and infused with new talent during the summer. Pilvi Torsti rose into a new remarkable role as a Member of Finnish Parliament, thus Milla Kokko takes the lead in HEI Schools´ next growth phase together with experienced professionals.


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Dr. Pilvi Torsti started as a Member of the Finnish Parliament

HEI Schools Founder, Dr. Pilvi Torsti rose to a Member of the Finnish Parliament in June 9th 2017. She also joined as a member in the Education Committee as she moved to the MP role from a position of the vice MP (elected since 2015). Pilvi continues in the advisory capacity with HEI Schools.


Milla Kokko (MA) stepped in as CEO of HEI Schools

Board of Directors of HEI Schools has nominated Milla Kokko as the CEO of HEI Schools. Milla Kokko (MA) is one of the founders in HEI Schools and prior to the CEO role she was leading the product and concept development in the company. Milla Kokko joined HEI team full-time in late 2016. Before that, she worked as the Head of Strategy for hasan & partners focusing on the growth of Finnish and international brands. She has deep experience in the fields of brand and concept development as well as design, marketing, and communication strategies.

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Our new team members

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Taina Roth (LLM)

Taina Roth joined HEI Schools as the COO of the company. In addition to being a lawyer, specialized in intellectual properties and licensing, she also has several years of executive experience in corporate venture and start up environments. Her strong experience in law and in building international digital businesses are a great asset for HEI Schools. She joined HEI Schools because of the great team and she also thinks that every child should have a chance for a better future through high quality education. 

Ville Taajamaa (D.Sc. Tech)

Ville Taajamaa started in HEI Schools as a Senior Advisor. Ville has a long entrepreneurial and academic background and he is specialized in new product development and design thinking in education. Alongside with HEI projects, he is doing research on educational innovations in US and Sino-Nordic education set-up. He teaches product development in a Sino-Finnish double degree program run by University of Turku and Fudan University in Shanghai, and is a researcher in Design Entrepreneuring Studio at Stanford, California. Due to Ville’s experience, he will be focusing on new product development and customers especially in East Asia.

Juho Pitkäniemi (BA, Economics)

Juho Pitkäniemi started in HEI Schools team as an assistant controller. He is finishing his Master’s degree in accounting at Aalto University. Juho joined the team because he recognizes the importance of early childhood education, loves working for meaningful causes, and really believes this team can make it happen!  

HEI Schools’ first teacher training for Chinese team was a success

10 Chinese Teachers from HEI Schools’ first pilot project in Baotou participated in teacher training in Finland between May 14th - June 14th. The training was conducted together with the team of early childhood education specialists from the University of Helsinki.

The 4-week long training was conducted as an intensive face-to-face teaching period at the University of Helsinki and a two week onsite training in Finnish Daycare Centres. The training contained lectures, group work, learning assignments, educational visits and excursions and working with a group of children.

During the training the Chinese teachers deepened their knowledge and understanding of Finnish Early Childhood Education (ECE) and the importance of high-quality ECE. Professor Lasse Lipponen from the University of Helsinki acted as the director of the HEI Schools Teacher Training.

“I have learned more than I expected!” - Mrs. Hu, Chinese Principal of HEI Schools Baotou

HEI Schools Teacher Training will continue through 18 months lasting co-teaching period in China, when 5 Finnish Kindergarten Teachers will start working at HEI Schools Baotou together with the Chinese teacher team. Co-teaching period is also supported by continuous online training and materials.

Prototyping, testing and building HEI Schools Learning Space!

We are proceeding with full speed with our learning space concept. Design work has reached prototyping and testing phase before drawings are flown to China to be build to our new brilliant HEI Schools Baotou kindergarten in China.

The inspiration for the spatial design derives directly from the children. We take child’s point of view seriously and new ideas are developed through workshops involving children, pedagogic crew, teachers, architects and designers. Together with the best team we have created an inspiring learning environment for children that include multiple opportunities for wondering, questioning, exploring and experimenting.

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Thank you MER architects, Collaboratorio, Milla Vaahtera, Aalto design factory and all the people participated on our quest to design new wave kindergarten space for little curious minds.

HEI Schools in Forbes

Pasi Sahlberg, an experienced educator, author and scholar, stated in his article in Forbes (Finland April 2017 edition), that Finnish education companies should take more share of voice in the growing International education market. There is a huge interest for the Finnish success story in education but the Finns themselves have difficulties in converting the success to tangible products and services. Sahlberg highlighted in his article that HEI Schools is one of the most promising examples succeeded to package Finnish pedagogical model into the real, usable format.

HELSINKI UNIVERSITY MAKES AN ADDITIONAL INVESTMENT IN HEI SCHOOLS

In February 2017, the Helsinki University Funds made an additional investment in the HEI Schools. The Helsinki Innovation Services (HIS), which focuses on the commercialization of scientific research, is strongly involved in supporting the development of the concept of HEI Schools and accelerating its internationalization.

"An additional investment is significant for HEI Schools in many ways - we are very pleased that the university is so strongly involved in the internationalization of early childhood education," says Managing Director, Pilvi Torsti.

PILVI TORSTI, CEO OF HEI SCHOOLS, INVITED AS A PANELIST AT FUTURE CONFERENCE IN BEIJING

Adjunct professor Pilvi Torsti participated as a guest speaker at the Beijing Symposium on the Future of Work and Education, in China. She discussed the importance of creativity in education. The Symposium organized by the China Education International Exchange Association (CEAIE) and the American Eisenhower Fellowships, debated how education can meet the future demands of work and how technological solutions are affecting work and education.

In his opening speech, the President of CEAIE, China's former Deputy Minister of Education, Liu Lim, stressed how changes in education and work life affect people and countries, all over the globe. The change is driven, in particular, by the growth of the middle class and the strengthening of China's global role. The discussions also focused on women's participation and equality in the workplace.

David Hill, representing HP company, one of the sponsors of the event, stressed the importance of creativity. "We are moving from the era of information to the era of creativity."

The most important way to embed Finnish creativity and enhanced thinking, is to emphasize the significance of teacher training and the commitment of top management.  Pilvi Torsti stated, "No reform can be achieved without strong decision-making and educating the teachers well". Torsti also stated that the kindergarten pilot in the city of Baotou, China, is the first kindergarten where the research-based Finnish early education model is being put into practice outside of Finland.

HEI SCHOOLS PILOT KINDERGARTEN IN BAOTOU, CHINA WILL OPEN IN COOPERATION WITH CHINESE AND FINNISH TEACHERS

The first model kindergarten of HEI Schools will open in the city of Baotou, North China, later this year. The HEI Schools kindergarten in Baotou has appointed two rectors. Chinese rector Hu Shifang and Finnish rector Sirpa Lassila,  will lead the kindergarten, which opens in September 2017.

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Hu Shifang

Sirpa Lassila

Sirpa Lassila

The project will pilot the HEI Schools' kindergarten concept, including a curriculum, teaching materials, space planning and teacher training. Some of the teaching will follow a co-teaching model where Finnish early education professionals will work side-by-side with Chinese colleagues, until January 2019. A total of five kindergarten teachers from Finland will head to China, led by rector Sirpa Lassila.

The pilot's goal is not only to provide high-quality early childhood education in Finland, but to also develop the HEI Schools model to meet the needs of the Chinese market. This is undertaken in cooperation with the Beijing Normal University and Chinese Academy of Science Kindergarten Group.

The project was launched at the end of 2016 and is now progressing to the construction phase. The 360 capacity, 4,500m2 building will be opened under the name ‘HEI Schools Baotou’, in September 2017.

HEI SCHOOLS TO COOPERATE WITH THE CHINESE ACADEMY OF SCIENCE

In March 2017, HEI Schools signed a letter of intent with a kindergarten chain owned by the Chinese Academy of Science. The cooperation aims at strengthening the HEI Schools' kindergarten model, teacher education and early childhood education research in China. This cooperation is also aimed at promoting the HEI Schools kindergarten model throughout China.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences’ ‘CAS En-First Education Group’ offers early childhood education with a strong science and art orientation. The group owns more than 180 kindergartens all over China. The cooperation between HEI Schools and the CAS Kindergarten Group is a research-based approach developed by two recognized institutions, the Helsinki University and the Chinese Academy of Science.

"A letter of intent with one of China's most advanced early childhood education provider is a very important step for us - the goal is to work together in developing the content and kindergarten concept, and also develop early childhood education research," says Professor Lasse Lipponen from the University of Helsinki.

China's demand for early childhood education is growing constantly. Like many Asian countries, China is looking for alternatives to a performance-oriented, authoritarian and test-based learning culture. The focus is moving towards the social and emotional well-being of children, the joy of learning, and creative thinking and activities. In addition, interest in international bilingual kindergartens has grown significantly in recent years.