Kalevala in the computer age

By Nigel Cousins 

compkale.jpg (10135 bytes)An epic rap of Väinämöinen, by students in Walthamstow School for Girls.
From left to right: Zaena Miller, Andriana Hadjantoni, Susan Snell, Asli Hussein and Timishea Maloney.

Walthamstow School for Girls in London has been involved with Sepän koulu in Kirkkonummi (near Helsinki) in an exciting educational project involving electronic communications. Our school has a rich multicultural intake, which means that twenty-three different languages are spoken in pupils' homes. As Pat Marino, Head of the school says, the project with Finland is a memorable way of showing the relevance of the European Union and how important it is for people in different countries to learn about each other, and treat one another with respect and understanding.

As part of this project, one group, 8F, have been studying the Kalevala, the national epic of Finland. In the course of their studies the girls have had the opportunity to meet a visiting Finnish teacher, Salla Pohjola, who was able to teach the girls some Finnish and answer their questions about the country. Salla also told them the story of the Sampo from the Kalevala which resulted in some very lively drama work.

The part of the Kalevala they concentrated on was the "Vainämöinen's music" section. The class prepared a presentation of this section to show to their Finnish counterparts in a video conference. As they worked on the project the classroom resounded to the music of the kantele and many girls tapped their toes to the rhythm of Värttinä. The class even staged a bardic competition in the old Finnish style!

The girls of 8F were obviously very enthusiastic. Victoria Davis-Neagle (12) said: "As a result of this project I want to know more about Finland and Finnish boys and girls." Timishea Maloney (13) commented: "I loved the Sampo story - especially doing a play about it. I liked the poem as well because I could imagine all the animals and people gathering round to hear Väinämöinen play the kantele." To Saima Khan (13), Finnish music brought the forest to mind. Anbreen Naz and Zanab Taj (both 13) thought that it was good to read literature from other European countries.

In Yasmin Ali's words (Yasmin is 13), "We knew nothing about Finland, but now we know a lot more. We all know exactly where Finland is on the map of Europe. We are really proud of our work on the Kalevala. It is the best piece of work we have done!"

The project, which is ongoing, has produced many benefits and revealed the richness of the Finnish literary tradition. It is a testament to its power that some very exciting work was produced. The combination of the most modern technology and the most ancient of epic poems proved irresistible.

Nigel Cousins is 8F's English teacher of at Walthamstow School for Girls.

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