“Inspiring”, “helpful”, “linear, “welcoming”, “encouraging”, “reflective”, “useful” and “efficient”. These were the words used by Irish, Scottish and Dutch teachers and project workers to describe the Finnish Design tool for Cultural Education Plans.
The tool is a free and open instrument to support the process of drawing up a cultural education plan. It contains concrete tips, advice and links to the different steps of the planning process and makes the planning process a systematic overview. The tool will result in a complete, common plan for the whole municipality or region, covering every grade.
The design tool for cultural education plans has been made in the parameters of the Finnish early childhood education and primary school system; late school starting age, specificity of the municipalities and mirroring the national core curriculum are reflected in the structure of the design tool. However, the Finnish education system is unique in global terms and the same approaches do not apply everywhere. Therefore, the evaluation of the design tool in international communities is important to promote the international dissemination of cultural education plans.
In the spring 2022, in a project called Culture United, international guests were able to learn about, test and evaluate the Finnish Design Tool for Cultural Education Plans. The cultural education plans were met with enthusiasm, even though similar models are already in use in some countries. In particular, the large number of cultural education plans nationwide and the close cooperation between the cultural and educational sectors attracted attention.
The most challenging aspect was the construction of the design tool around grade-level content. In Finland, children start their school path relatively late, so the tool’s grade levels do not match the age groups of all countries. A shift from grade levels to age groups would therefore better serve international school systems. Another key development is the municipality-specificity of the planning tool. The tool has been set up to create a municipality-wide cultural education plan. However, Finnish municipalities are small in terms of population by international standards, regardless of whether they are measured by average or by median. Internationally, it would be easier to start drawing up a cultural education plan for each school rather than involving the whole municipality.
Nevertheless, all countries shared a similar value base and objective – equality. All countries defined the value base for cultural education as including support for creativity and self-expression, new learning environments and broadening the content of the curriculum. Cultural education plans were seen as a means of broadening pupils’ knowledge, understanding and learning about their own culture and local cultural heritage. The design tool was seen as informative, accessible and encouraging. It gave the designer of the cultural education plan confidence and competence in the planning process. The tool was easy to follow and its visual layout was perceived as appealing. Through the design tool, it outlined what kind of cultural education is already provided in schools and how it could be further developed.