Often we hear that the U.S. is behind when it comes to education amongst first-world countries. We also hear that the Nordic countries seem to have discovered the secret to outperforming the world. Depending on the list, the country of Finland always seems to be the top in the world for education. This wasn’t always the case however. The Fins have made a concerted effort to invest in educating their population. To do so they’ve taken some pretty unorthodox steps that fly in the face of conventional education. In contrast to American students, Finnish children don’t actually start school until they are seven years of age. This is the age when experts agree that children are developmentally able to learn.
Despite their older age, Finnish students still receive more play time than their American counterparts. This method of allowing the kids to be kids, may actually help the students absorb the information that is presented to them. In fact, there is a Finnish law stating that students must have 15 minutes of “play” for every 45 minutes of instruction.
Play Time is Important
While not only helping the students feel more relaxed and energized to learn, this “play time” may also help reduce their stress. It is well documented that American students are extremely stressed when it comes to their academics. However, it appears that stress is not actually helping our students achieve success. In addition to the re-engineering of the education system to conform to the students’ needs, Finland also has a higher level of respect for educators themselves. This helps to get high quality educators involved and keep them motivated to continue doing great work. Also, with the exception of a senior year exam, students are not forced to take standardized tests in school. They are also encouraged to work together rather than constantly be in competition with each other.
Recently, Finland has announced a measure that will further separate its system from the traditional one. Finland is doing away with school subjects to better prepare their students for the modern world. By removing the rigid structure of math and science period, the new approach takes an almost vocational approach to teaching.
Students learn the subjects in tandem as part of “topics”. These topics can incorporate numerous subjects into their study and present more realistic training. This type of education allows students to directly apply concepts taught in class to solve industry situations and problems. To learn these topics, it appears that Finland is doing away with the standard lecture model of the teacher talking to the students and instead engaging the student in an adapted Socratic method. In this method, teachers encourage students to solve the problems in groups. As a result, it creates an environment for knowledge sharing and teamwork which allows students to learn faster.
Perhaps by preparing students for life, rather than teaching to a set of standardized tests, Finland has created an educational system that is one of the top in the world. Instead of learning dates, equations, and vocabulary, the primary focus of the Finnish system is to teach the students how to learn. Developing the mindset and critical thinking skills to learn effectively is important to the success of students. With this foundation of learning, students are able to learn skills from all different subjects and apply those skills beyond the walls of the classroom.
All in all, as the U.S. continues to fall behind in education, we should be asking ourselves “What are we doing to help our children succeed?” The answer may involve learning from our friends across the Atlantic by:
- Building an education system around the student
- Teaching the students how to learn, not what to learn
- Encouraging students to engage with one another to solve problems rather than compete
By implementing some of the innovations from Finland, we can better help our children to succeed in life!