BY: DANIEL KORN
Much has been made of Finland’s incredibly successful education system. In the 1960s, faced with economic turmoil after a series of smaller wars throughout the World War II years, Finnish Parliament made the wise realization that the best investment for economic recovery was in the children of the country. Thus, a massive revamp of the Finnish public education system occurred, resulting in students who now regularly top the charts of the Programme for International Student Assessment rankings.
This level of consistent success is thanks to legitimate devotion to the idea of “no child left behind,” beyond the lip service given to the idea by North American politicians. A focus is put on the recognition and development of each child’s personality and learning style rather than standardized tests. All schooling is free—from elementary school, to university, to adult education—and compulsory education doesn’t start until the age of 7 in order to not stress children out from an early age. Classes never have more than 20 kids in them, and children of all skill levels are taught in the same class, with the stronger learners encouraged to help the weaker ones. Hot, healthy lunches are provided daily. Homework is rare, allowing students to develop extracurricular “soft skills” in areas such as music, art, and sports. Play is considered an important part of the learning experience throughout, and 15 minutes of outdoor recess is given after every class.
Meanwhile, teachers are extremely valued, requiring a master’s degree level of training and treated with the same high regard as doctors and lawyers. While a standard curriculum is in place, it’s more of a suggestion than anything else—teachers are given lots of autonomy, and are trusted with knowing the best course of action for each of their students. More importantly, with more free time throughout the day and less marking to be done after school hours, they’re given the necessary time to develop their craft. Teachers are more able to talk with each other to discuss classroom issues and find solutions, as well as to give struggling students time for extra help. As a result, 93 percent of students in Finland graduate high school, and the educational system actually costs 30 percent less per student than the United States’ system.
The country has decided unanimously that this approach is the way to go—both the left- and right-wing parties of their government agree—and as such their education is constantly updated to support modern needs. The newest change, which is rolling out this year, is a shift from teaching subjects to teaching topics. That means that students will no longer be attending dedicated math, english, or biology classes—instead, they’ll tackle specific phenomena with an interdisciplinary approach. For example, as relayed by an article in The Independent, students might take a course on the European Union, and their studies would cover economics, geography, language, and the histories of the countries involved.
Like the majority of the Finnish education system, the new model is built on practicality and real-world application. Specifically, this change is a recognition of an increasingly technological age wherein basic tasks can be performed by computers and—eventually—robots. It doesn’t make sense to have students learn math in an isolated theoretical setting; instead, they need to be taught how to mix all of their skills together and apply them to high-level problem solving. The redesign also questions the idea of students learning through passive lecturing, and puts an increased emphasis on collaborative projects and communication with peers.
Personally, I’ve never really felt like I got a raw deal being born in Canada, but hearing about the education system of Finland makes me wish I grew up there. This is a country that values and respects its children regardless of socioeconomic background. It’s a place that recognizes the long-term benefit of a properly educated nation and wants everyone to succeed on their own terms. Most importantly, the country sees its citizens as more than a financial resource to tap for business interests. That this attitude seems novel is perhaps the most damning indictment of the North American educational system.