Following Finland In Education
As Americans, we have a rigid sense of patriotism and believe that our way is the right way. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. We are not a perfect nation and our policies are in desperate need of fixing. One of the most important issues we deal with is education and, as we’ve seen from previous studies, our performance in math, literature, and science have suffered. For some, it’s a hard reality to accept, but there are countries in the world that have a better approach to educating their children than we do and the results are backing up their methods.
Just looking at the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which is a study of 15 year olds that takes place every three years and has been widely circulated with each release, the United States ranked approximately 26th out of 34 countries in mathematics, failing to meet average standards. Reading and science were closer to the estimated average, but rankings placed us at 17 and 21, respectively. There isn’t going to be one thing responsible for our success or failure. There are many ideas and measures we need to adopt in order to improve the education our children receive and, thankfully, other countries have already figured some of them out. Finland offers us a look into what that success looks like.
Money Doesn’t Solve Everything
As with other things, the United States can be found among a group of nations spending the most on education per student. Depending on the grade and age group, it was estimated that we spend anywhere from 11,000 to 16,000 US dollars on each student. Since the United States is a richer nation than others, with a larger workforce and GDP, there is room to spend that money.
However, judging by the aforementioned results in student education, it’s clear that we shouldn’t be focusing on what we spend, but, instead the quality of education being given. Activists and politicians often speak up on the importance of education and believe we should be able to spend more money to help our students, but that is not a solution.
Spending only tells part of the story and doesn’t guarantee… success. The United States routinely trails its rival countries in performances on international exams despite being among the heaviest spenders on education. —Philip Elliott
Young children, starting at age five or six, are given the opportunity to start school and enter kindergarten before embarking on grades 1-12, which are compulsory. We do not, however, have a model in which kids can grow up in a constructive environment, teaching them basic skills that are essential to early development.
In Finland, free universal daycare is made available and paid for by taxpayers. The intended purpose of this time is to get children ready to learn; how to do it and to immerse them in a social setting with other children, so as to equip them with the knowledge of how to interact with others and cooperate in group settings.
Parents are also given packages to help care for and educate their children at home. For the first three years of childhood, municipalities will pay mothers who decide to stay home and provide their own daycare while a caretaker makes occasional visits to track the child’s progress. While it isn’t mandatory, most parents decide to send their children to preschool.
Early education is the first and most critical stage of lifelong learning. Neurological research has shown that 90% of brain growth occurs during the first five years of life, and 85% of the nerve paths develop before starting school. —Eeva Hujala
In the United States, there is an à la carte approach to education. Children will attend a public school, charter school, private school or receive homeschool from their parents. These alternatives are not always available in European or Asian countries. In Finland, all schools where students receive compulsory education are publicly funded. And, although homeschool is legal in Finland, it’s not an option that is used by many, considering the Finnish see value in their public education system.
Finland makes it possible for every child to receive an education. Socio-economic status, race and gender are not considered. It is because every child can go to school without parents having to worry about cost or ability that their model works.
Finland’s Ministry of Education is responsible for evaluating and establishing minimum standards for students. Along the way, it conducts studies to ensure that children are on track and being treated in a way that is acceptable. Besides this oversight, Finland has set it up to where municipalities have control over the schools within their boundaries.
Principals are considered to have stewardship over the success of the teachers they employ and their students. This local presence allows parents to have greater involvement in the direction of their child’s education and they’re able to have a close relationship with the teachers they rely on. Principals and teachers are allowed the freedom to change things up, come up with new assignments and projects and tailor their methods to best fit the needs of the children they teach. Many public school teachers do not enjoy this luxury within the United States, as they’re often bound by the textbook and expected to follow established guidelines for the school year.
While Finnish teachers have the freedom to teach as they see fit and provide a unique style of education for their students, American instructors are expected to teach strictly according to the material they’re given and use resources available to them. They’re constantly having to create their lectures and assignments according to any upcoming test. This way of teaching creates a restrictive environment, which gives little opportunity to go above and beyond what may be expected or preferred.
When Finland set out to reform its education system in the 1970s and 80s, they were trying to find a way to best help the students and give them what they deserved. They did not have in mind what the results would look like on paper. To this day, they’re still not concerned with appearances, but look for results. This is what has lead to Finland’s success.
Among industrialized nations, Finland has the least amount of hours where students spend time in class. They provide plenty of recess in between their studies, they engage in group activities to better learn the subject and they often take the lesson outside of the classroom. Even with this lighter schedule, Finland can often be found on top of the charts in academic success.
In the United States, field trips are scarce, recess is reserved for only elementary level students and lunch can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 1/2 hours, depending on location. America’s education system is outdated and relies on the approach of giving lectures and testing on the material taught. Most of the time spent is in a classroom, sitting in a desk and, following that, more homework is given to do at home. This is hardly conducive to a successful teaching model.Students aren’t allowed to exercise, interact with others and collaborate.
Some may call this socialism. They’ll call it European. Irresponsible, impossible. Un-American. However, at the end of the day, examples have been put forth on what does and doesn’t work. We have the opportunity available to us to emulate what others do and use those ideas which best fit our needs and demographics. Our children deserve to have the best education possible.