Keuruu Secondary School Flexible Basic Education (JOPO) class organised the 31st INEPS Congress. The congress was held at the Spa Hotel Peurunka, Laukaa in Middle-Finland from 17 to 21 April 2023.
INEPS (International Network of Productive Learning Projects and Schools) is an international organisation for productive learning that has been operating since 1990 and aims to promote the idea of productive learning – learning through action and experience.
The congress was organised as part of the All In Ed (- A Bet for School Engagement for All) ErasmusPlus project and served also as the project’s fourth Transnational Project Meeting. Additionally, The Finnish Regional State Administrative Agency enabled free participation for Finnish educators for two congress days.
This 31st INEPS Congress – “Productive Learning – An Answer to the Educational Challenges of 2023?” – brought together teachers, educators and administrators from eight countries (U.S.A., Japan, Finland, Germany, Portugal, Austria, France and Spain). In addition to the Spa Hotel Peurunka, the congress took place at the University of Jyväskylä, Keuruu High School, Keuruu TKI Centre and Finlandia Hotel Alba.
It is also worth noting that the pioneer institution of productive learning, New York City as School, celebrating its’ 50th anniversary, participated in the Congress. The idea behind the model for Flexible Basic Education (JOPO) was first brought from New York to Germany (Stadt als Schule) and then to Finland in the early 1990s. By the early 2000s, the Finnish Ministry of Education became convinced of the learning program and in 2009 JOPO was written into the Basic Education Act. Moreover, the German Institute for Productive Learning – IPLE – was represented at the INEPS Congress.
During the four-day INEPS Congress, presentations, study visits, workshops and discussions revealed that productive learning indeed has solutions to the challenges facing the education sector today.
Since the pandemic, the education sector has been faced with new challenges. The most tangible is to do with school engagement of students. Indeed, the lack of school engagement seems to be a problem in all the countries represented at the congress.
The All In Ed ErasmusPlus project on school engagement provided a researched perspective on the phenomenon of school engagement at the Congress. The Teacher Training Institute of the University of Jyväskylä, which is involved in the project, brought up-to-date theory and research data to the discussion. At a practical level, the Spanish (Marta Casas Castane) and Portuguese (Cristina Domingues) project partners led school engagement related workshops, where good school related practices were collected and worked on.
The research shows that action-based (productive) learning is crucial for achieving and strengthening school engagement. In this context, the focus is on behavioral engagement. In simple terms, through (action-based) participation, students identify with their environment and thus become attached to what they are doing, either in school or in an outside learning environment such as the workplace. This (identification through participation) has also been shown to have a positive impact on a student’s academic performance.
Tuomo Virtanen, a lecturer at the University of Jyväskylä, who was involved in the All In Ed project, and his colleague Jenni Pelkonen, in their book ‘Outside the Crowd (Poissa porukasta)’ on school engagement, summarise it as follows, p. 34: “… although all three dimensions of engagement (emotional, behavioral and cognitive) are important for school performance, it seems that it is the behavioral engagement that is most important.
Practical examples of behavioral engagement were provided by visits to the Keuruu secondary school and the JOPO class in Keuruu. Keuruu JOPO students hosted the congress guests in their classrooms for a light lunch and were able to answer numerous questions on action-based (productive) learning. In addition to their JOPO experiences, the students told the congress guests about learning in different environments and, for example, about organising ‘real life, real money’ events as part of their studies. They all emphasized a ‘life be in it’ entrepreneurial attitude towards schoolwork, which grows when you are allowed to ‘take charge of’ your learning (within the JOPO learning program).
The challenges to education and training and its delivery posed by rapidly advancing technologies and changes in the labour market are considerable. These challenges are reflected in many areas of education and training and at different levels. The question is whether education and training can keep pace with the rapid changes in society and the world. For example, how relevant do pupils perceive school to be and how can education meet their expectations for the future – It might even be that there aren’t any education available for a certain field. These were some of the issues discussed in the presentations and debates during the INEPS Congress.
Keulink Ltd (Development Company) enabled INEPS congress participants to visit the TKI centre in Keuruu, where diesel engines in heavy vehicles are converted to electric power. The visit provided an excellent practical example of how productive learning can also meet the challenges of today’s working life training environment – employees are being trained for a field, where there isn’t any (institutional) education available yet, in the course of their work. This type of on-site learning allows for a flexible match between supply and demand on the labour and training sides.
The INEPS congress was the result of a long process – Discussions on the organisation of the congress started before the pandemic. However, even if there had been a readiness to organise the event earlier, it was decided to wait until April 2023 due to the prevailing world situation (the previous INEPS Congress was held in Leipzig and Dresden, Germany in April 2018).
The April 2023 INEPS Congress and its organisation went off without a hitch and the organisers were highly praised. In addition, the organisation of the INEPS Congress positions the ‘All In Ed – A Bet for School Engagement for All’ ErasmusPlus project positively on the education side – Also internationally.
The next INEPS congress is scheduled to take place in Paris, France, in the spring of 2025. In the meantime, JOPO Keuruu and the All In Ed ErasmusPlus project, in cooperation with the Finnish National Agency of Education and the Regional State Administrative Agency, will organise a national JOPO seminar on school engagement. This seminar will take place on 25-26 April 2024 in Peurunga, Laukaa. Freely translated the title of the event reads: ‘School Engagement- Lessons learned from JOPO – towards new challneges!‘ The event will also include a parallel programme in Swedish.
The strength of JOPO’s action-based learning program and its’ operational chances rely heavily on the surrounding community. It is therefore impossible to implement JOPO without an extensive network of collaborators outside the school. In addition to local, regional and national (action-based) cooperation, JOPO is also enriched by international activities such as the fore mentioned INEPS and Erasmus+ cooperation.
Moving forward strongly by doing, seeing and experiencing. The future is in young people!
All In Ed- ErasmusPlus Project Coordinator
All In Ed: https://all-in-ed.com/stakeholders/
Keuruu TKI Centre: https://www.keulink.fi/keuruu-tki-keskus/
New York City As School: https://www.cityas.org/