Why Finland is so successful at education
Teachers take the approach of “less is more” and this shines through in their methods and their results. I have never been a great fan of the western education system which is so competitive and puts students into “clever” and “stupid” groups – to put it bluntly. Students are labelled and they begin to believe what they are told – that they are clever or stupid. Teachers would deny this but research shows that teachers unwittingly treat students according to their perceived levels of ability and have far more patience for those that they feel are clever. They will try harder as they perceive the error in the student grasping the concept to be an error in their teaching method. Whereas with a student is seen as stupid, a teacher will perceive their inability to grasp a concept as being due to their lack of cognitive ability.
Children start school when they are older
Children start school at the age of seven in Finland whereas they start much younger in the UK – around 4 or 5 years old. This allows children to ease into school and adopt a more positive approach to the education system. They do nine years of compulsory education and then are free to choose 3 different paths:
a)Upper Secondary school – a mixture of high school and college that continues for 3 years and prepares students for entry into university. Recently, just under 40% have chosen this option.
b) Vocational Education – this is also a three year programme based more on practical skills but also prepares a student for entry into university if they choose it. A little under 60% choose this option. Many continue by going straight into work after their three years education and do not continue on to university.
c) Go straight into a job (less than 5% choose this option)
Children spend less time in school
Research has consistenly proven that young people need their sleep, especially in the early morning and school often starts around 9am in Finland. The school day usually ends around 2pm or 2.45pm. Typically in a day, they have three to four, 75 minute classes with several breaks in between.
In primary school, many students have the same teacher for many years. The same teacher over six years or so can learn a great deal about their individual class of twenty students and will know their favoured learning styles as well as they best way to help their group of students reach their best potential. This streamlined approach offers stability and a holistic approach to the teacher as they will be aware of the developmental and educational needs required at each age instead of passing their group onto a new teacher at the end of each year.
There is less testing but more learning
Teachers in the UK today have to work to narrowly defined goals – their students MUST pass tests at certain stages and the reputation of the school relies on good grades being obtained. As a result, there is far more stress which inevitably filters down to the children. Jobs depend on good marks and the main objective of teaching starts to become less important as meeting targets takes priority. Teachers in Finland also have a structure to adhere to but it is far more flexible allowing the teacher to be more creative in their lessons and take a few risks.
Fewer topics/subjects are covered
Instead of trying to cover everything there is to know in a subject on a very superficial level, teachers in Finland choose fewer topics but spend more time explaining those topics and building perspective and comprehension around these topics.
Finnish students average under half and hour’s homework each evening. Possibly the lowest homework load globally. This is especially interesting when you realise that Finnish students outperform high performing Asian students who receive out of hours tutoring and a lot of work to complete outside the hours of school.
The average size of a class in Finland is 20, in the UK it is 30-35 students.
There is a lot more trust in the system
Trust is key to this whole system not structure. Instead of being suspicious of one another and creating tons of structure, rules, hoops and tests to see if the system is working, they simply trust the system. Society trusts the schools to hire good Teachers. The schools trust the teachers to be highly trained individuals and therefore give them freedom to create the type of classroom environment that is best for their individual students. The Parent’s trust the teachers to make decisions that will help their children learn and thrive. The Teachers trust the students to do the work and learn for the sake of learning. The Students trust the teachers to give them the tools they need to be successful. Society trusts the system and gives education the respect it deserves. It works and it isn’t complicated. Finland has it figured out.