I recently had the privilege of reading about Finland’s Education system and was amazed to learn about its success in making Finland’s teenagers the smartest & brightest in the world. According to the article, Finland’s success is centred on the application of good teaching practices within a good education system.
Finland’s high-school students rarely get more than a half-hour of homework a night. They have no school uniforms, no honor societies, no valedictorians, no tardy bells and no classes for the gifted. There is little standardized testing of students and few parents who agonize over their kid’s college education. In Finland, kids don’t start school until age 7.
Despite the perceived lack of vigour, Finnish schools won global attention with their performances in triennial tests (Programme for International Student Assessment or “PISA”) sponsored by the OECD. In tests conducted in late 2007 (taken by 400,000 students aged 15 years from 57 countries) and released in early 2008, Finland’s students were placed first in science and near the top in math and reading, ranking them among the smartest and brightest in the world. The test scores highlighted another interesting fact – that the gap between Finland’s best and worst performing schools was the smallest of all the schools from the participating countries.
In recent years, the academic prowess of Finland’s students has lured educators from more than 50 countries to study their education system and to learn from them. What they find is well-trained teachers using good teaching practices instilling in students ownership of learning.
Finnish children do not begin formal schooling until at age 7 – much later than children in most other countries. Instead, Finland sponsors a high-quality government funded preschool program where the focus is on self-reflection and social behaviour. This focus makes children reflective and responsible about their learning and conforms to the German Educator Friedrich Froebel’s original theory of kindergarten (1837) – meaning a “children’s garden”- a place and time where children could learn through structured and random play. Reading, particularly in the Finnish language, is emphasised with all sincerity from a very early age. The system is ever so dynamic that it adopts and contextualizes good practices from other systems of pre-schooling.
Finnish schools have a no-frills curriculum, with no classes for the gifted; with the quicker students often helping their lagging peers. Finnish educators believe they get better overall results by concentrating on weaker students rather than by pushing gifted students ahead of everyone else. This kind of peer learning has positive implications both within the school and within the society at large.
In a school illustrated in one of the articles (The Norssi School), visitors and teacher trainees can peek from a viewing balcony perched over a classroom to see the teachers and students at work. The school is run like a teaching hospital and uses about 800 teacher trainees each year. Finnish teachers enjoy a great deal of freedom and pick books, customize lessons to fit their student’s needs as they shape students to national standards. According to Mr. Schleicher of the Paris-based OECD which administers the PISA test, “In most countries, education feels like a car factory. In Finland, the teachers are the entrepreneurs”.