Former Kyrgyz president seeking inspiration from Finnish education practices
During her visit for the 2nd meeting of the UN Secretary General’s High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation in Helsinki, former Kyrgyz President Rosa Otunbayeva deepened her knowledge about Finland’s long-standing track record on education for her international foundation.
As the head of the “Roza Otunbayeva Initiative” founded in 2012 and an avid learner herself, Otunbayeva is collecting best practices from global leaders in their fields to implement in Kyrgyzstan. She has centered the foundation’s efforts on education and turned her spotlight to Finland’s world-class education system.
“You need people with new, critical thinking. To think differently, not just memorize” said Otunbayeva. “I heard in Finland you may not have subjects any more in schools but you work around one big topic – That sort of things I want to learn”.
As the former president of Kyrgyzstan -- a state that has experienced upheavals and ethnic tensions since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 – Otunbayeva has dedicated herself to fostering peace and understanding in her own country and has identified early childhood education as the key ingredient to achieving that goal.
In a press release published prior to the Helsinki meeting, Timo Soini, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland, emphasized the role of mediation as “one of the priority areas of the Finnish foreign policy”. As a country that has enjoyed long-term stability and prosperity, Otunbayeva was also keen to praise the forward looking approach taken by Finland and its Nordic neighbors to peacemaking.
“Scandinavian countries, as usually, they are in avant-garde of this understanding. I have seen all the ministers of Scandinavian countries and they supported these ideas of Secretary-Genaral [on conflict prevention and mediation]”, Otumbayeva said.
From Big Words to the Building Blocks for Peace
Human rights, democracy and equality are an essential part of the Finnish Foreign Ministry’s vision and its strategic thinking. Otunbayeva agrees with these notions, but noted that her country is still going through a period of transition and changing hierarchical customs and traditional mindsets takes time. In Kyrgyzstan a gap still remains between government rhetoric and policies and the reality on the ground.
And while Otunbayeva says that progress has been made on this front, she also readily acknowledges that there is much room for improvement in Kyrgyzstan.
“It’s not easy”, said Otumbayeva. “It is an exercise for every day, for every month --- and, we are learning”.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kyrgyz society has gone through drastic changes shifting from a planned economy to a market economy. Unresolved border disputes, ethnic tensions and political upheavals have also shook the country at times.
With many acute day-to-day challenges to tackle, toddlers and preschoolers may not seem like the right battle to choose. But in a country with a population of six million and one million children below seven years-old, focusing on education makes perfect sense.
And education is not the only aspect in child development where Kyrgyzstan could learn from Finland, as Kyrgyzstan is only now starting to develop its own system and standards to record the physical growth, vaccination and skills development of children.
“We just celebrated our 25th anniversary” Otunbayeva reminds. “We don’t have the knowledge, skills, experience which you have collected over the 100 years”.
But in Otumbayeva’s view, quality education and proficient child development practices do not only benefit the children and their families. When asked, what she thinks as the most important factors for achieving sustainable peace on an international scale, she listed three grand words “justice, respect and professionalism”, bringing the conversation back the connection between peace and education.
“War starts in the minds” said Otunbayeva. That’s why it is very important to educate children in tolerance.”
To learn more about the cooperation opportunities in the field of education, contact Ambassador for Education, Ms. Marianne Huusko, marianne.huusko(at)formin.fi