What can we learn from Finland?

I read an interesting article recently in TIME magazine about the education system in Finland.  Finland consistently ranks at the top in student achievement in math, science, and reading.  Singapore and South Korea are also high achievers, but unlike these two Asian countries, Finland’s school hours are shorter than the U.S. and homework is limited to an hour or less.

What makes the Finland schools unique is their focus on equality.  Students are not placed in classes based on achievement, or tracked into higher level math or science classes based on how smart they are.  Rather, the focus is on educating the entire group of students as a whole.  Such attention to all students has resulted in their “below average” students performing better than “below average” students throughout the world.  Signficantly better, actually.  80% better when compared with other countries.  Their “above average” students perform 20% better than “above average” students in other countries.

It was also interesting to read how Finland schools spend most of their time outside.  For example, when learning geometry, the students use sticks and rocks from the woods to form shapes.  They grow plants for science class.  They use walks outside to inspire their writing assignments.  And the schools with this sort of curriculum are poor, urban schools, as well as upper middle class schools in the suburbs.

One other main difference:  teachers.  It takes a 5-year masters program to become a teacher.  Teaching is a highly respected profession, with only 6% of applicants being accepted to teaching programs.  Considerable amounts of resources are spent educating teachers and preparing them for their classroom.  Once in the classroom, teachers stay with their group of students for several years, learning the nuances of their students and how best to prepare their daily lessons.  They are given the freedom to teach how they think is best, and “testing” is limited.

But it’s working.  Finland students are well-prepared across subjects, ranking 1st this year in many areas.  It’s interesting to think how our society and culture might adopt more of these practices to better prepare our students for the world.  And as parents, how can we support these practices at home?

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