Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Finland: A Few Comments on Its Educational System

Image result for finlandEnvironmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

The secret of the success of Finland's schools is fairly obvious according to Valerie Strauss, education reporter for Washington Post. She writes: It is "a whole-child-centered, research-and-evidence based schools system, run by highly professionalized teachers. These are global education best practices, not cultural quirks applicable only to Finland." To achieve this requires considerable effort and focus, though.

Strauss reports on what "two people who know what is really going on in Finland," Pasi Sahlberg and Peter Johnson about lessons learned long ago, some of the myths about Finnish educational practices, and current changes underway. Three lessons stand out:

--Educational systems are not "to be managed like business corporations," i.e., where "competition, measurement-based accountability and performance-determined pay" rule. Instead, successful "education systems rely on collaboration, trust, and collegial responsibility...."

--"Successful education systems rely on continuous professionalization" based on "advanced academic education, solid scientific and practical knowledge, and continuous on-the-job training."

--Systems cannot be judged solely on "literacy and numeracy test scores." Whole child measures such as "equity of education outcomes, well being, and arts, music, drama and physical education" are important components, too.

Image result for project based learning
Among the myths: students do not have homework, the curriculum is interdisciplinary rather than subject-matter based, and that Finnish schools "are required to follow a national curriculum and implement the same teaching method called 'phenomenon-based learning' (more-or-less what we know as project-based learning)." None of these are true.

There is a National Core Curriculum (NCC) that provides "a common direction."  "Local curricula and annual work plans" use the NCC as a framework, in other words,  Finland's educational system is decentralized and Finnish schools "can have different profiles and practical arrangements making the curriculum model unique in the world." One requirement of the 2014 NCC is that "all schools are required to design at least one week-long project for all students that is interdisciplinary and based on students' interests." 

Finland is not without its challenges--the interdisciplinary requirement is one as well as changes in teaching methods. Others are understanding relationships "between different learning contents" and being "able to apply knowledge and use it in collaborative learning settings. An important lesson in Finland and here  is making "sure parents, children and media better understand the nature of school reforms underway."
And for visitors, most of whom read neither Finnish or Swedish, the content of education law, the NCC as well as curricula designed by local schools that explain the oughts, whys, whats and hows of Finnish educational practice remain unknown to most of them. However, this doesn't slow them down from making "authoritative" comments and suggestions on what other naions should do, especially the US.

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