Principals' Conference: Finland - August 2015

BY Mrs M. Woods

I was privileged to attend the 12th Convention of the International Confederation of Principals held in Helsinki, Finland in August.


I was thrilled that my niece, Lianne Cairns, was happy to accompany me on this exciting adventure. It is always so much better having a travelling partner. She registered as my partner, so was allowed to attend the following with me:  the welcoming ceremony held in the Finlandia Hall Piazza, André Nöel Chaker’s address as the first keynote speaker, the Helsinki City Reception hosted by the Deputy Mayor of Helsinki, the gala dinner at Restaurant Kalastajatorppa and the closing ceremony. I shall forever be grateful to Lianne, as her presence made the whole experience so much more personal and enjoyable.  While I attended the conference daily, she explored all the museums, parks, lakes, shops and harbor. When we stayed on in Helskinki after the close of the conference, I had a professional, informed guide of note!


Before the start of the conference, we caught the Eckero Line Ferry to the capital city of Estonia, Tallinn (a two hour trip). We met up with a few principals from Cape Town. The “Old Town” in the city of Tallinn is what remains of the fortified medieval town. This was fascinating.  It felt as if we were making a journey into the past.  The summer flowers were unbelievably beautiful and colourful and the markets were  filled with stalls of flowers. Their fruit, all the different kinds of berries in particular, were huge and fresh.


The Estonians and Finns seemed to be quite unfriendly at first.  However, we soon found that they are just shy, modest people with an enviable openness about them. They do not, however, do much “chit chat”.  High educational standards have contributed to Finland’s emergence as a country of high technology. Finland is known for its mobile phones and boasts more internet connections per capita than any other country. Finnish culture is often summarised as, “sauna, sisu and Sibelius”. They are celebrating the 150th anniversary  of their most famous composer, Sibelius. Helsinki is one of the safest cities in Europe. Its cleanliness and functional urban planning make it friendly to residents and visitors. 


The conference covered a wide range of educational topics, including:

  • The Finnish Miracle
  •  Invisible Learning, Creativity Critique Care, Ethics and Global Citizenship Education
  •  From Learning Environments to Motivation Environments
  •  How Effective Principals Lead Change
  • Lessons from Great School Leaders  Transformational Leadership and  Governance:  Building Blocks for Sustainable Growth and Performance.


One always returns from this type of conference feeling better equipped to deal with the daily challenges in education in South Africa and enriched with a informed perspective of education internationally.    One can only learn and grow from this unique first world experience. The SGB of Riebeek College is a group of insightful and forward-looking body of governors who allow the staff of Riebeek to experience many conventions, courses and professional development opportunities. Their unstinting support is what enables us to achieve excellent results, accolades from the Department of Education and  private acknowledgement as a successful, humble school. For example,  the University of Johannesburg showed their acknowledgement of Riebeek being selected as one of the top 25 schools in the FAIRLADY survey by sending us a framed certificate with lovely words of congratulations. The certificate reads: “The future of South Africa is in the hands of our children, and by helping to provide a strong educational foundation, you are contributing to a lifetime of accomplishment as well as the development of our great nation”.  What a compliment for this little “gem” in The Hage!


Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself, everybody else is taken”.  This accentuates one of the messages that came across strongly at the conference. They emphasised that you are only “at your strongest when you are authentically, positively yourself”.  Early childhood development was also given attention as being vitally importance for a successful education system in any country. Internationally, Ministers of Education were turning their attention to equity, ensuring that all children have access to early childhood education.


At Riebeek College, we shall continue to aspire to what Professor Olive Mugenda from Kenya, one of the keynote speakers at the conference emphasized:  


“Principles and values are to people what roots are to trees. Without roots, when the wind blows, trees fall. Without principles and values people fall when they are shaken by the gales of existence.”  

(by Carlos Reyles)












 November 04, 2015
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