Dare to Dream Big: From square one to a pioneer of global learning

Studies in social and moral philosophy sparked Akseli Huhtanen’s interest in both the promotion of learning and in teaching. Eventually, it brought him to work as the CEO of an international learning festival wanting to turn learning into a way of life.

Finland is known for the best education in the world, which makes it the perfect setting for a new kind of festival of learning. Dare to Learn is the largest international learning festival in Northern Europe, gathering together thousands of learning enthusiasts from all over the globe. At this event, titles are not important. Anyone interested in learning is welcome.

“We are specifically inviting people who have helped us, for example, in planning the programme along the way. Some of our partners are organising supplementary events targeted at limited audiences, to which they are inviting their own guests. We have also invited decision-makers in the field of education from various countries,” says Akseli Huhtanen, master’s degree holder in social sciences.

After the event in 2017, several projects were launched by Finnish companies in Finland and abroad, while the festival itself is carrying on with its conquest of the world in Tokyo and Amsterdam.

“Dare to Learn is a festival looking for solutions to the global crisis in learning. The UN objective of sending nearly all children to school has already been achieved, but it’s another matter whether they actually learn anything in school. Many children spend as much as five years in school without learning to read and write. In short: we have lots of education, but what about learning?” says Huhtanen.

According to Huhtanen, learning is above all a process of change, such as the development of individual capabilities. On the other hand, he thinks that education refers to a system and institution whose purpose is to create learning, which it doesn’t necessarily always end up doing.

Where did Dare to Learn begin?

Huhtanen, who originally comes from Espoo, had many potential study paths in front of him until he decided to apply to study social and moral philosophy at the University of Helsinki. In the autumn of his first academic year, Huhtanen learned that many students of philosophy worked as substitute school teachers. This kindled his interests both in promoting learning and in teaching.

Alongside philosophy studies and substitute teacher posts, Huhtanen participated in establishing various businesses, associations, events and, among others, philosophy camps for children.

As Finland’s centenary and Huhtanen’s graduation drew closer, the Dare to Learn festival started to take shape. Together with other students, he began considering what the world was still missing and how to celebrate the anniversary. Then it hit them: they could give away the gift of Finnish learning to the rest of the world!

Subsequently, the Dare to Learn team met with several parties, to which they introduced the germ of their project, prepared to face harsh critique. Instead, the project was very well received, progressing smoothly towards September 2017 when the first Dare to Learn festival was held.

Huhtanen stresses that this would not have been possible without his background as a student of the University of Helsinki and the contacts gained there.

“My contacts have been an indispensable launching pad for this project since that was the first time I had ever organised an international event of this scale. At the very beginning, I gradually got to know more and more people, each of whom knew a new person that could help us,” Huhtanen muses.

Learning is a way of life

Huhtanen says that the ultimate purpose of Dare to Learn is to find methods that make the world better and propagate learning in a global manner.

“All events are in English, focusing on matters of lifelong learning, not just questions of a certain educational level. At Dare to Learn, ideas and solutions concerning the promotion of learning are disseminated around different professions in dozens of workshops and informal get-togethers,” says Huhtanen.

In the future, Huhtanen would like to advance his own expertise in the field even further. As for learning, he wishes to see the schools and higher education institutions of the future increasingly as intersections of communities.

“I want to spread learning in society and into people’s lives, as the quickening pace of changes makes it important to all. Learning is going to become a way of life!” Huhtanen sums up.

Read more about Dare to Learn - the Festival for Rethinking Learning.