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 places 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.
Meet The FSI Global Online School
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, expats, 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 on Covid-19 risks.
The Finnish Curriculum And Learning During A Pandemic
Shulman: As you know, we are amid a global pandemic. From a high-level, can you tell me about the school’s offerings, and how a student’s day would look?
Berisha: Students usually start their day by answering well-being questions, and checking their timetable on the school LMS, which contains their daily assignments and activities in each subject.
Shulman: Are classes synchronous, asynchronous, or both?
Berisha: With a combination of live and asynchronous classes, FSI Global Online School is built to provide flexibility and personalization.
Shulman: How do you personalize learning online?
Berisha: Every student has an Individual Learning Plan, and can design her/his learning journey, including time, team, and learning mode. The school moves with families, allowing them to continue a flawless learning experience if re-locations take place.
Students at FSI GO will be able to arrange and change their classroom groups (or learning pods) and teammates while building a global and diverse network.
Let’s Talk Learning Pods
Shulman: With schools closing, learning pods are the new thing. Do you help parents with potential learning pods?
Berisha: Yes, for a group of families looking to create a learning pod together, we provide selected onsite tutors that will come to students’ homes and give face to face learning support.
At the same time, students continue to receive a world-class online education, and participate in global projects with children from around the world.
In this way, we offer the best of two worlds: personalized, home—delivered learning support, and world-class education delivered online by some of the world’s best teachers.
Student Mental Health Support
Shulman: Can you tell me how you help students with mental health needs?
Berisha: Student well-being and 24/7 support is an integral part of FSI GO’s education model. Based on individual data from each student, class (pod), and the whole school (provided through a digital application daily), the FSI GO team adjusts its teaching and support, and makes direct interventions when necessary.
Shulman: Right now, all youth are facing such an unknown time. How do you ensure all kids are okay?
Berisha: We pay special care and attention to students’ well-being considering the difficult times we are going through due to the lack of physical interaction at school with their peers.
Therefore, our psychologists and teachers hold online well-being classes where they give each other positive compliments to lift up their spirits.
Shulman: What about extra academic support?
Berisha: If a student has problems with Math, English, or Science assignments or homework, there are 24/7 live tutors ready to help.
Shulman: What other areas does FSI Global Online School cover for youth?
Berisha: We are working together with EtonX, part of the world-famous Eton College to deliver 21st-century skills development including critical thinking, creative problem solving, resilience, entrepreneurship, and how to make an impact.
Shulman: Can you share more academic examples students may have through your online program?
Berisha: Yes, students might experiment with chemical elements in a virtual lab in a Chemistry class, and see closely how reactions are made. Or, they may engage in various quizzes and discussions with their teachers and peers to have interactive sessions. We went to our students to feel like they are learning as if they were in school.
Shulman: How about the arts and music? It’s critical for brain development. Can you elaborate on that topic?
Berisha: The arts and music are also an essential part of the online curriculum for our students as they unleash their creativity.
They draw incredible paintings as well as produce exceptional sounds using online platforms such as Garage Band. Besides this, IT and robotics are crucial in their development.
Shulman: How about learning hard skills such as software development?
Berisha: Students, starting from preschool and onwards can complete online coding courses and receive awards and certificates upon their successful completion of the programs in designing websites, engaging in Minecraft, using coding blocks, and much more.
Shulman: How can you ensure inclusivity for all students?
Berisha: To ensure inclusivity, FSI GO is providing a three-tier pricing based on GDP per capita starting at 295 Euros per month, or $349.00, or parents can take 30% off if they register for annual payments.
Finding Top Teachers
Shulman: You stated the online program was developed and is currently owned by teachers. Can you elaborate on that a little more?
Berisha: A school is a great place to learn because of its teachers. However, there haven’t been models around the world where great teachers would not only teach and get paid for it but also have a vested interest in a school by designing and co-owning it.
Shulman: You are correct. Teachers don’t typically have stock in a school. How are you changing this to make such a difference?
Berisha: We decided to provide 35% of the total FSI GO shares to great teachers and administrators from around the world. As part of the arrangement, they will be responsible for designing a certain area of curriculum or education model, collaborate with other teachers to do so, and deliver classes or clubs within the online school. They will collectively also have a seat on the company board and will have a profound impact on the company’s direction.
Shulman: Can you tell me about the world-class educators who built and run the online school?
Berisha: In every country or school, there are always rockstar teachers who inspire generations of students. When we decided to launch a fully Global Online School, we put ourselves on a task to bring together some of the best teachers in the world, (as in our case geography was no longer a challenge).
Shulman: How did you go about hiring?
Berisha: We have already hired Global Teacher Prize Top 10 Finalists such as Maarit Rossi from Finland, and Ray Chambers from the UK.
Shulman: Are you currently looking for more teachers?
Berisha: Yes, we have recently launched a call for other teachers from around the world to co-design and co-own the school. We are currently negotiating with a significant number of teachers and will announce their names in the next few days. We have just launched a call for exceptional teachers as part of the “Founding Teachers Program.”
Launching A Distance Learning Program: Surviving Obstacles
Shulman: What were some of the most significant challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?
Berisha: While our school community was very accustomed to using education technology, we had no experience with remote teaching and learning. The main challenge was to convince students that they have similar responsibilities as if they were in live classes, working on group projects, and submitting assignments on time.
Shulman: Any other challenges you can share?
Berisha: The other challenge at the beginning was also synchronizing over 50 education technologies under one platform and making them work for students.
Shulman: What about Internet access and broadband service?
Berisha: Sometimes, students would not attend live classes due to Internet problems, so we always made sure that even if they were unable to participate in a live class, there would be recorded videos, materials, and tasks they could work on at their own pace.
Shulman: What are your goals as you continue to grow?
Berisha: For the next few years, we aim to create a hybrid model of global education localized for every country where students can spend time in a co-creation hub.
Shulman: Who will support the learning hubs, and how will this benefit support students?
Berisha: Local tutors and coaches will support this hub.
In this way, students can socialize and co-create with their peers while being academically prepared in a rigorous curriculum with global teachers. The goal is to create hubs in major cities around the world in the next ten years.
Entrepreneurship In Education
Shulman: Education is a challenging world to change. What are two tips you can share with our readers regarding education and entrepreneurship?
Berisha: If you want to get rich, perhaps education might not be your number one choice. And second, school is hard to change by those who don’t come from within the system. You have to have the right expertise if you are thinking of delving into the world of education.
Shulman: Anything else you’d like to share?
Berisha: A world of opportunities emerges when a child has the chance to get involved in these learning experiences in different time zones, sharing with peers of different cultures and nations. That’s the world of opportunities we are creating with FSI GO.
Shulman: Please tell me where else we can follow all of your work.
Berisha: You can follow our work at the following sites: