Why Are Finland’s Schools Successful? | Smithsonian Magazine

A great article on the success of Finnish schools. They are doing pretty well:

In the 2009 PISA scores released last year, the nation came in second in science, third in reading and sixth in math among nearly half a million students worldwide.

Ninety-three percent of Finns graduate from academic or vocational high schools, 17.5 percentage points higher than the United States, and 66 percent go on to higher education, the highest rate in the European Union. Yet Finland spends about 30 percent less per student than the United States.

What is really remakrable is that , until not so long ago, Finland had a system that failed in the much the same way that most national systems of education fail. But they made an active decision to change it. One side-effect of the change is that there are no mandated standardized tests (it’s up to teachers if they use them), no rankings, no comparisons, no competition between students, schools or regions:

 “Americans like all these bars and graphs and colored charts….It’s nonsense. We know much more about the children than these tests can tell us.”

“We prepare children to learn how to learn, not how to take a test”.

This is remarkably clear and sensible thinking. Or, maybe, what is remarkable is the fact that so many educational systems do employ such meaningless and harmful measures and lose sight of the main reason they exist in the first place – to help people to learn.

The reasons for the Finns’  succcess boil down to common sense and a focus on learning rather than assessing. Educators have to know how to educate (all must have a masters level qualification in education). Unusually, this knowledge is actively used and valorised. They have freedom to teach how and, within fairly broad and mostly advisory limits, what they like. And they are systematically encouraged to continue to learn, through experimentation, study and sharing. They spend time with each other, observing each other and talking about what they are doing, sometimes working together, if and only if it makes sense. They do not have punishing goals set by those who do not understand education. They do not make kids compete for someone else’s benefit, nor do they stifle creativity in the name of standards. They recognise that classes are made up of individuals and give the time to those that need it:

“Children from wealthy families with lots of education can be taught by stupid teachers….We try to catch the weak students. It’s deep in our thinking”

The school day is short and split up with lots of time for play and very little homework, giving time for teachers to assess properly (ie to improve learning, not to filter or judge), give attention to those that need attention, and to plan well. And kids start relatively late in life – age 7. 

“We have no hurry….Children learn better when they are ready. Why stress them out?”

Compared with kids in most countries, Finnish kids learn better, learn more, at a lower cost, in less time. And Finland achieved this in the past couple of decades mainly by leaving education to people who know about education and giving them the freedom to exercise that knowledge and educate. That seems like a good idea to me.

Address of the bookmark: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/Why-Are-Finlands-Schools-Successful.html

I am a professional learner, employed as a Full Professor at Athabasca University, where I research lots of things broadly in the area of learning and technology and teach mainly in the School of Computing & Information Systems, of which I am the Chair. I am married, with two grown-up children, and live in beautiful Vancouver.

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