Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Finland Phenomenon

Q.  I remember being struck by how many vocational or hands-on classes
(home economics, art, technology, and so forth) were available to students
at every Finnish school I visited.  At one secondary school I visited, kids were cooking breakfast; at another, I saw that all the kids had learned how to sew
their own bathing suits.  More than one teacher remarked, "It's important for
students to have different activities to do during the day." And there seems
to be no stigma about vocational education. Is this attitude true of all schools
in Finland?

A.  Yes, we definitely believe that for young people handcrafts, cooking,
creative pursuits, and sports, are all important. We believe these help young
people benefit more from the skills they're learning in school. 

Q.   Do you think that this takes time away from academics?

A.  Academics isn't all kids need. Kids need so much more. School should
be where we teach the meaning of life; where kids learn they are needed;
where they can learn community skills. We like to think that school is also
important for developing a good self-image, a strong sensitivity to other people's feelings. . . . and understanding it matters to take care of others. We definitely want to incorporate all those things in education.

Next below is a top ten list via Cooperative Catalyst via via Parenting magazine's Mom Congress 2012 summarizing the traits of the much admired and controversial Finnish education.  The Finns seem to do exactly opposite the growing U.S. education agenda:

  1. Finland does not give their kids standardized tests.
  2. Individual schools have curriculum autonomy; individual teachers have classroom autonomy.
  3. It is not mandatory to give students grades until they are in the 8th grade.
  4. All teachers are required to have a master's degree.
  5. Finland does not have a culture of negative accountability for their teachers. According to Partanen, "bad" teachers receive more professional development; they are not threatened with being fired.
  6. Finland has a culture of collaboration between schools, not competition. Most schools, according to Partanen, perform at the same level, so there is no status in attending a particular facility.
  7. Finland has no private schools.
  8. Education emphasis is "equal opportunity to all."They value equality over excellence.
  9. A much higher percentage of Finland's educational budget goes directly into the classroom than it does in the US, as administrators make approximately the same salary as teachers. This also makes Finland's education more affordable than it is in the US.
  10. Finnish culture values childhood independence; one example: children mostly get themselves to school on their own, by walking or bicycling, etc. Helicopter parenting isn't really in their vocabulary.
  11. Finnish schools don't assign homework, because it is assumed that mastery is attained in the classroom.
  12. Finnish schools have sports, but no sports teams. Competition is not valued.
  13. The focus is on the individual child. If a child is falling behind, the highly trained teaching staff recognizes this need and immediately creates a plan to address the child's individual needs. Likewise, if a child is soaring ahead and bored, the staff is trained and prepared to appropriately address this as well.
  14. Partanen correlated the methods and success of their public schools to US private schools. We already have a model right here at home.
  15. Compulsory school in Finland doesn't begin until children are 7 years old.

What are Finland's strengths?  Perhaps the quickest way to get the big picture is this slide show, or this new and the most in-depth being the above-titled documentary film, "The Finland Phenomenon."  Even if you read all the articles about the Finland school system, I highly recommend you watch the documentary - it fills in the blanks left bare by generalities.