From Teacher-Centred to Student-Centred Learning

Ilona Taimela
Ilona Taimela, an Education Consultant and former teacher from Finland, said that student participation is the premise of education in her country, and it is governed by their legislation. The students participate in curriculum development, together with planning and evaluation of one’s own learning. They even make the school discipline rules. She highlighted that when students are given responsibilities and learn about it, they become responsible people and active citizens.


Taimela shared that play is the centre of all their teaching. Finland has the shortest days of school in the world, with a typical day starting at eight in the morning and ending at noon. Of these four hours, one is reserved for outdoor activities. She said this allowed time for children to have hobbies and engage with others to play.

Finland’s education system ranked high on both life satisfaction and reading performance in the 2018 PISA results. It’s also the happiest country in the world according to the United Nation’s World Happiness Report. Taimela attributed this to children being given the joy of being themselves, to design their own paths and being responsible in collaboration with other stakeholders.

Ada Wong, Supervisor of HKICC Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity and Director of Ednovators

Ada Wong, Supervisor of HKICC Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity and Director of Ednovators, shared the design thinking application experience of the schools that participated in InnoPower@JC Fellowship for Teachers (“InnoPower”). The programme provides 10 weeks of training for educators who wished to build innovation capacity and change their school in a small way.

  • TWGHs Wong Fung Ling College creates maker experience through design thinking
  • Heung To Middle School (Tin Shui Wai) nurtures empathy and a growth mindset through the application of design thinking in its entrepreneurship education
  • St. Margaret’s Co-Educational English Secondary and Primary School provides self-directed learning by setting aside a genius hour for students to work on projects they are passionate about
  • St. Bonaventure Catholic Primary School organises design challenges for students to practice design thinking and design doing
  • Tin Shui Wai Methodist Primary School uses design thinking for service learning
  • Hong Kong and Macau Lutheran Church Ming Tao Primary School has teachers who participate in a “Shadow a Student Challenge”

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Kaleb Rashad, Director of Creative Leadership at High Tech High Graduate School of Education (“HTH”) in the United States, shared what a shift to student-centred learning means for both teachers and students.

Rashad said HTH was founded on the philosophy that education had to reclaim the loss of joy as it relates to young people’s holistic experience. HTH injected rigour into the learning experience through student engagement, giving them ownership and encouraging them to find their purpose. Students follow their dreams and passions with courage and fun. Project Based Learning is integral to the HTH learning experience, with the following learning flow.

Rashad emphasised that student-centred learning would require a shift from a suppressive to a liberative school culture. It will also need a different kind of leadership to support teachers, one that can lead with a compelling and collective vision through culture and team work – a culture that is not about having the right answers, but that asks the right questions.

Jeff Sze, Political Assistant to the Secretary for Education

Jeff Sze, Political Assistant to the Secretary for Education, facilitated the panel discussion. The panelists talked about how tests and examinations with the wrong purpose and approaches killed the joy of learning. Taimela explained that the way to go was not to do away with evaluations but to personalise them with a view to helping educators design the most suitable learning experience for students at the outset. Whilst local schools in Hong Kong are still bound by the education system, Wong encouraged educators to leave some ‘white space’ (downtime) for students. Rashad reminded the audience that schools should be much more about students’ interests, passions and curiosities – things that make them excited to be alive.