Lessons from Finland
The Finland education model is ranked as one of the best education systems in the world. It will surprise many readers that their education system is ranked much higher than England's, Canada's and the United States'. In fact, the US and England are now looking to adopt aspects of the Finland model as unorthodox as that model might be within the context of the Western world.
Recently, while on a tour of some schools in the USA, Finland's education minister pointed out in an interview that the transformation of the education system began just over 40 years ago after the realisation that the system was badly in need of reform. Their education system is deeply rooted in progressivism and reconstructivism.
These two philosophies are intertwined. According to the book, Curriculum: Foundations, Principles and Issues, the educational philosophy of progressivism advocates that students should be taught the skills that will enable them to function in a democratic society. These skills must include problem solving, critical thinking and scientific methods.
For the progressivist, emphasis should be placed on teaching students how to think, and not what to think. Progressivism is, by its very nature, opposed to authoritarian teaching, over-reliance on textbook methods, rote learning, corporal punishment as a form of discipline, and attempts to separate education from individual experiences and social reality.
Some readers might ask, what is the importance of an educational philosophy to the school system? The answer is that it has everything to do with setting the foundation to develop an education system that meets the needs and demands of a society.
Many good education models across the world are built on the foundation of a particular education philosophy. Such thinking will have major implications for teacher recruitment and training, curriculum development, delivery and evaluation, school leadership, teacher-pupil ratio, the classroom environment, discipline, character development, and even the role of the government. All of the above are important building blocks for the development of a world-class education system.
It was Finland's philosophy of education that had caused it to elevate the status of teachers to the level of lawyers and doctors. So competitive is the teaching profession that only 10 per cent of graduates from universities are accepted into teaching programmes. Teachers are, therefore, required to have a master's degree.
In addition to this, Finland's teachers spend, on average, 600 hours a year in the classroom. They spend the rest of the time in professional development and meeting with colleagues, students and parents. This enables teachers to share ideas and best practices. The teachers in the USA spend in excess of 1,100 hours in the classroom, leaving little time for professional development and stakeholder consultation.
There are no special schools for the exceptionally bright students. So strong is their belief that they cannot afford to waste a brain that a lot of emphasis is placed on significantly improving the learning outcomes of the weaker students who are placed in the same class as those less challenged or exceptionally bright students. The rationale for doing this is that the academically stronger students will act as motivation for the academically weaker ones and, through cooperative learning and other forms of curriculum delivery, help to lift their academic profile.
In addition to this, there is one national curriculum and students are exposed to a wide cross section of vocational areas. In fact, close to 50 per cent of the students in the Finland education system tend to lean towards vocational areas as an area of speciality.
What is even more surprising is that standardised testing in Finland is almost non-existent. The only form of standardised test is what is called the National Matriculation Exam, which everyone must take towards the end of their high-school years.
Teachers are, however, trained to assess students in their classes using instruments that the classroom teachers have created. While the students will receive a report card at the end of each semester, they are based mainly on individualised grading by the teacher. The practicality of achieving this is enhanced by the fact that classroom sizes are relatively small and teachers are given a lot of autonomy.
The Ministry of Education will periodically track national progress by testing sample groups across a range of different schools.
It is useful to make note of the fact that there is no such thing as performance-based pay for teachers. They are simply given a decent salary.
- Mark Malabver is head of the Social Sciences Department at Charlie Smith High, the academic staff representative to the board, and chairman of the Inner-City Teachers' Coalition. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.