A Lesson From The Shamans, Witches And Magicians

Or, Education in Finland

by jun asuncion


What do I know about Finland aside from my nokia handy and the outstanding PISA ranking? I digged down and remembered Alvar Aalto, (February 3, 1898 – May 11, 1976)  a celebrated Finnish architect and designer, the Kalevala which is a book and epic poem compiled from the Finnish and Karelian folklore by the Finn Elias Lönnrot, herds of reindeers and moose, the thousands lakes, the Vikings that occupied it, the Lapland region with white snow and unspoilt nature and vast wilderness. For me it is a mystical place that has since excited my imagination, a place so remote that even now when I think of Finland I remember instantly  those Finnish women co-workers of mine who were white as snow covered in golden hairs, reminding me of skilled ancient Finnish witches, magicians and shamans who used music by singing special spells, herbal medicines and also by entering a trance, letting their souls travel to foreign places.

Hunger is not a specific Philippine problem.The worst famine in European history happened in the soils of Finland, killing 15 per cent of its already small population. Added to that, as a Finnish friend tells me, “During the second world war, we have lost almost all our men in Finland”. Finland fought against the Soviet Union and the Nazi-Germany and incurred heavy losses. Heavily dependent on Soviet union as its primary trading partner, Finland suffered deep recession in the early 90’s when the Soviet Union collapsed, simultaneous with its banking crisis, political mismanagement and with the global economic downturn at that time. Not to forget,  this agricultural country was and is better known also for having globally the highest suicide rate and high alcoholism. Alcohol has become the leading cause of death in Finland for men and for women and is surely a contributory factor in suicides, and is involved in deaths caused by accidents or violent crimes.

The population did not rise dramatically even when the economy became better after the second world war. With a total land area of 338,145 square kilometers and an estimated 2008 population of only 5,320,000, Finland is one of the sparsely populated lands of the world. By contrast: The Philippines is only 38,145 square kilometers smaller than Finland. Imagine now if the Philippines had only over 5,000,000 inhabitants! Bulan would have been empty, a wild park.

To survive, the government liberalized its economy and spent large amounts for high-tech education, training of highly-skilled teachers (mostly with master’s degree). This investment in education has paid off. Now Finland is one among the leading  global economies with highly-skilled work force. 

It is said that  Kalevala, that precious book of epic poems had provided the inspiration for the national awakening that ultimately freed the Finns from Russia in 1917. As I see it, the seed of their high-tech culture was already contained in that book, as described in the practices of the shamans like letting their soul travel while in trance, this astral projection as we used to call it. My brother-in-law studied architecture and design with Alvar Aalto in Finland and he provided me some of the most interesting reports about his master teacher Aalto and about Finnish culture in general. One specific story that got stucked in my memory was his story about the practice of mental telepathy by the local Finns. He was told by these people that it was natural for them to communicate with their friends and relatives via mental telepathy for there were no phones (at that time) and they live in great distances from each other. In winter it is cold and dark, thick snow and ice hinder travel even by foot. Telepathy was borne out of this necessity to communicate over wide distances and harsh weather conditions. Astral projection and mental telepathy? What do they have in common? It’s a wireless technology! This technology has always been there looming in the souls of the Finns; they seem to have this natural affinity to wireless technology since the beginning. Now, Finland  is the world leader in wireless communication technology. Just recently, I have read a report about it in a newspaper and reproduce here salient features of it:

-“Nowhere has mobile communication caught on as it has in sparsely populated Finland, where nearly 70 percent of the 5.3 million residents are armed with wireless phones and an ever-expanding array of tools, games and services they can use on the fly.”

-” Finland’s role in wireless development has been a boon for the country that only a decade ago was overly dependent on slumping wood-products industries and doomed trade with the Soviet Union.”

-“Although the phones can’t do all that a home PC can, Finnish companies have soared to the forefront with services that allow users to check news, sports and weather wherever they are, as well as read their horoscopes or biorhythms, order food, pay bills, buy Christmas presents and collect e-mail.”

-” What you see happening here today will be happening in other markets very soon. We’re just a year or two ahead of other Europeans, and Europeans are just a bit ahead of the United States,” says Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, chief financial officer for Nokia, the world’s largest wireless communications provider.”

-“Only about 25 percent of U.S. citizens own mobile phones, compared with about half the European population. Finland’s current 67 percent market penetration is expected to exceed 70 percent by the end of the year, a higher rate than in any other nation. Finland is followed by Hong Kong, Norway, Sweden, Israel, Japan, Denmark and Italy in the ranks of top cellular consumers.”

-“Wireless operations also allow Terentjeff to custom-fit the work environment to his employees’ needs, he says, noting that one valued co-worker has negotiated a protracted maternity leave on condition that she keep an eye on her projects via wireless conference calls from home.”

Tangible results of huge investment in education and research:
-“Gross domestic product rose more than 30 percent in the five years after 1992 and is projected to post an additional 20 percent increase by the end of this year. Unemployment has dropped from 20 percent at the start of the decade to 10.5 percent now — a level not expected to change despite healthy increases in new jobs each year because of the specialized training needed for the country’s new high- tech focus.”  ( source: San Francisco Chronicle.)


Pre-school begins at age 6
Comprehensive school: age 7 to 16
Upper secondary school or vocational school: 16 to 19
Pupils in Finland, age 7 to 14, spend fewest hours in school
Higher education places for 65% young people
Second-highest public spending on higher education (source:oecd)

Major features:

The World Economic Forum ranks Finland’s tertiary education #1 in the world
-Free Education: No tuition fees are collected in all levels – elementary, secondary and tertiary education, be it public or private school.

– school health care and a daily free lunch

– school pupils are entitled to receive free books and materials and free school trips

-teaches the same curriculum to all pupils


Like all of you, I also wish we would have free education in the Philippines and all the other benefits like the Finnish system. Why not? It pays off in the end for the whole country. It would break the poor education-poverty cycle that we have talked about before. Other things being equal, all people could have education which in turn would give them the chance to work and get out of poverty. With educated population and a country without poverty, the Philippines would move forward. Here is one sad fact about our current educational system: it is elitistic and discriminating, fosters poverty and social divide. It attacks the family itself: for in a family of five or more children, the average parents could only send perhaps a child or two to college and what about the rest of the chiildren? So the system injects into the basic unit of society itself  the evil of division and discrimination. What kind of educational system is it then?

I do not believe that Singaporean minister’s statement  that increasing the teacher’s salary-as rudyb shared to us- is not the solution to the problems of education. It may apply to Singaporean teachers but not to our own teachers. It is indeed not the only solution but it is one of the solutions to encourage the teachers for in my view, the teachers are very much underpaid in the Philippines. In our country, things are a little bit more complex for our politics doesn’t understand the importance of education- and of educated politicians.

Going back to Bulan, I respect the Bulan Teacher’s Day  as started by Mayor Helen De Castro (see her 2007 report- Edukasyon). This is one of the many ways to give incentives to our teachers and teachers to be.

Otherwise it’s about time for us to consult and to learn the lessons from the shamans, witches and magicians. They know the way.


Bulan Observer