Below is our recent interview with Milla Kokko, CEO and Co-Founder of HEI Schools.
Q: What is HEI Schools? For those who have never heard of it, tell us something more?
A: Finnish early education has an excellent reputation around the world, creating a high demand for our expertise. However, we face the challenge of providing a tangible experience to educational operators outside of Finland, a ready-made “Finnish model” for them to use. HEI Schools took up the challenge together with the University of Helsinki and is now offering Finnish early education to the world through several easy-to-use models. The mission of the company is to provide high-quality early education to as many children and families in the world as possible.
HEI Schools started in 2016 by offering a full kindergarten package to global markets. The HEI Schools Learning Center includes everything from detailed Curriculum materials and extensive Teacher Training to the learning environment design, a well-curated set of learning materials and a peer-to-peer Teacher Community. The Headquarter Team provides hands-on support in the setup and launch of these Learning Centers, and this is the best option for those looking to open a completely new type of kindergarten in their region.
Q: What makes schools in Finland unique?
A: After I have been part of the team forming the Finnish education model to be used outside of Finland, I´ll tend to think, nowadays, that the deep core of the success is the culture of trust: school management and parents trusting the teachers as pedagogical professionals (not as babysitter servants…), teachers trusting the school management as enablers in building high-quality learning experience and the parents doing their best in raising the children. Obviously also the children trusting the teachers as safe adults and the teachers trusting the children as capable learners and individuals.
This base, the culture of trust, then enables all the magic: removing the adults´ need for tight control and stressful learning environment, offering for the children the freedom to learn through play and experiment, courage to fail and use your imagination and creativity (which we know from the research, being the most natural and also effective way to learn for the children).
Obviously there are a lot of structures in the Finnish society (free education for all, free school meals, teachers are seen as respected professionals etc) that has a lot to do with the good results overall, but can be difficult to “export”. That is why HEI Schools is focusing in creating a set of methods, great content and enough training.
Q: Could you tell us something more about pricing for teachers?
A: Our direct customers are mostly early learning centers (B2B) who are using HEI Schools curriculum to provide high-quality pedagogical content, training and tools for their teachers. However, some teachers are buying HEI Schools Teacher Diploma directly for themselves (500€/diploma).
Q: You’ve recently raised $2 Million in Series A funding; can you tell us something more?
A: In the summer of 2020, HEI Schools released two more products to scale the HEI concept to more markets and make it available to those who already have preschools up and running.
We have received a lot of inquiries from already established early childhood education and childcare providers about possibilities to adapt the HEI Schools model to their schools. To meet that demand, we designed a product that offers our cutting-edge curriculum and teacher training in an easy-to-implement package to enhance early childhood education at any school under their own brand and name. Due to the challenge of international travel and in-person training, we adapted our expertise so it’s available 100% online.
The HEI Schools Teacher Toolkit product serves entire preschools or kindergartens around the world as a monthly subscription service. Built on an easy-to-use platform, the Toolkit includes a theoretical and practical guidebook of Finnish early childhood education, two activity plans per day for three age groups and professional development materials for teachers. It also includes home learning materials to share with parents.
HEI Schools also offers Finnish world-class teacher training with its other new product, HEI Schools Teacher Certificate. Available to any individual teacher or entire schools for their staff, this self-paced online program rewards participants with a University of Helsinki certificate in Finnish Early Childhood Education upon completion. It comprises 10 modules modeled after Finnish teacher education and 760 working hours with practical hands-on assignments that let teachers apply the play-based, holistic approach that makes Finnish education so famous.
Q: What can we expect from HEI Schools in next 12 months?
A: 2021 there will be 16 more HEI Schools opening around the world, also in the USA, Canada, Kuwait and Thailand. More than 40 schools are currently subscribing the digital curriculum model and over 200 teachers from 30 different countries are onboarded at the teacher certificate program. We are expecting these numbers to multiply with the help of the new investment (resources for marketing, sales and other growth enablers).
Every day, we speak to people who are excited about having access to the Finnish education model. As we grow, so does the global demand for early childhood education. Once largely considered little more than babysitting, the field has gained worldwide prominence and respect as an important developmental and educational period in a person’s life. When we receive a contact from a new country, we can see that the hard work of our researchers and teachers has spread further than we could ever imagine. The desire to give children access to high-quality and rewarding education is everywhere: all parents want their children to be happy and successful.