Alejtin Berisha is a serial entrepreneur from Kosovo who is changing the educational landscape around the globe, both in-person and throughout the distance learning ecosystem. Berisha is the Founder of Finnish Schools International and Finnish Schools International Online.
These programs are an innovative international network of schools built upon one of the most admired education practices in the world: The Finnish Education System. Working with some of the best teachers, and adding in some technology, Berisha brought his Finnish-based curriculum from the brick and mortar setting to an online distance learning school. His latest goal with this project is to reach an international audience to provide youth with the most creative, personalized, and real-life world education. Through his Finnish based curriculum, students will be able to develop seven transversal competencies of the program which include:
- Thinking and learning to learn
- Looking after oneself, self-care, safety needs, and taking care of each other
- Culture competence
- Learning how to build a sustainable future
- ICT Competence
- Building a sustainable future
Using these best practices students are part of hands-on, real-life learning that can take them far into the future. These practices can improve problem-solving skills, critical thinking, health and wellness, social and emotional needs, and building critical relationships for the 21st-century.
Berisha has been involved as an angel investor in ed-tech startups and has supported other education companies worldwide. All together, Berisha has founded or is part of institutions that serve over 15,000 students annually. In his education portfolio, Berisha has a network of the most successful summer schools in the Balkans, language schools, and several K-12 schools. They also have Kosovo’s most innovative higher education institutions, Universum College.
I spoke with Berisha to learn more about his past in the education world, his personal motivations, and his aspirations for the new distance learning program. According to the Finnish Schools International Global site, “We want to create an opportunity for every student to develop into smart, creative, healthy and happy individuals and tackle the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for reading purposes.
Robyn Shulman: Can you tell me how your childhood brought you to where you are today?
Alejtin Berisha: In the ’80s and ’90s, my childhood in Kosovo was challenging. We were living under apartheid, without the fundamental rights of education in our own native Albanian. It was a rough childhood, especially in terms of education. During the war of 1998-1999, I spent part of my schooling in refugee camps in Macedonia and afterward in Turkey. In Turkey, I dropped out of school to help my family run a small burger shop that we opened after fleeing the war.
Shulman: How did your childhood affect you from a business and education perspective?
Berisha: At 14-years old, I started learning different aspects of business in a rather experiential learning mode, which inspired me to create an education model where students learn by doing.
Shulman: What was your motivation to get into education?
Berisha: There were two main reasons.
First, education runs in my family. My great grandfather opened the first school in his region during World War II, my grandfather was a teacher, and my father opened the first private school in Kosovo.
Second, as a war child, I understood that education is the only weapon to change a person, a country, and even the world. I have always been so inspired to make an impact on peoples’ lives, and there is no other sector where you can make more impact than through education.
Finnish Schools of Kosovo
Shulman: I agree. Let’s talk a bit about your brick and mortar schools. The Global Online School is based on the good practices of Finnish Schools International, especially your flagship school, Finnish School of Kosovo. Can you tell us a little bit more about it?
Berisha: Yes, with Finnish School of Kosovo, we have created one of the most innovative education models, by designing a learning environment around co-learning spaces rather than classrooms and a blend of hands-on experiential learning model supported by state of the art technology.
Shulman: Can you elaborate on this learning structure?
Berisha: Yes, we mix students together from different age groups, grades, or disciplines to learn about a phenomenon and not a subject; where students learn about entrepreneurship, economy, and the society in ‘Koonta’, a miniature town within the school campus—by developing projects to solve global challenges such as climate change or attending mandatory apprenticeships and job shadowing in another country (mostly in Finland); and where kids code, create and sew from the first grade, and they have lots of fun while doing it.
Shulman: What about studies and testing?
Berisha: Study takes place in a relaxed atmosphere with very little tests. Going out of the school building and exercise after every 45 minutes in class is mandatory. I am really proud that student happiness is one of the four pillars of our mission.
Shulman: Yes, this should be part of every curriculum.
Shulman: Can you tell me more about the Global Online School and the Finnish curriculum? Why did you choose this specific model?
Berisha: Finland has been doing things differently for decades now, and they still achieve tremendous results. I chose to take the Finnish education system global because I wanted to disrupt the current status quo in international education where three central educational systems—American, British, and IB prevail. The Finnish system provides more education with less schooling, and more creativity, and less standardized exams.
Shulman: Who is the optimal student for your online school?
Berisha: We aspire to become the number one alternative education program for the growing digitally native families, nomads, ex-pats, and parents looking for global learning environments. This program is also a unique opportunity for families who cannot or are unwilling to send their children to school in the next months based on their apprehension of Covid-19 risks.