Jeremy Corbyn recently called out the Finnish education system as the one we should aim to emulate in this country. Michael Moore produced a documentary detailing the quality of Finland’s education system and media across the world have since been abound with details of the unique Finnish scholastic approach.
With political leaders citing other countries methods as best practise perhaps time to look at what Finland are doing well and see what our schools and educators could borrow from their process.
Finland completely rejuvenated their education system about 40 years ago as an integral element of the country’s economic recovery plan but evidence this was successful didn’t come until the 2000’s when a standardized test given to schools across 40 countries showed that Finnish schools produce the best readers. Three years later tests confirmed they then led in Maths. By 2006 Finland were first in science, third in reading and 6th in maths. It seemed the education revolution in Finland had a real impact.
NO TESTS AND BIG ON EQUALITY
So what do they do differently? Well there are no mandated standardised tests in Finland until the end of students last year of senior school. Pupils are not ranked, don’t compete within the school or across regions. So ‘teaching to the test’ is an outdated principle in Finland.
Instead equality is the buzzword integral to the culture of the countries education system. So much so that the gap between the lowest performing pupil and the highest is the smallest in the world.
“Equality is the most important word in Finnish education. All political parties on the right and left agree on this,” said Olli Luukkainen, president of Finland’s powerful teachers union.
Despite Finland spending 30% less than the USA on each student a striking 93% of their students go on to graduate. That’s 17.5% more than the US. Facts such as these are why other countries are looking at Finland’s methods and asking themselves “how can we do better?”
“We prepare children to learn… how to learn, not how to take a test,”
Pasi Sahlberg - Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture
PLAY IS INTEGRAL. SCHOOL STARTS LATER.
So what else is different? Well schools allows 15 minutes of free playtime up to four times a day. The kids are getting fresh air and exercise both of which proactively benefits them when they hit the books. Now whilst Finland might not test these children studies have shown that 15 minutes exercise has a positive effect on kid’s ability to learn and study resulting in higher test scores for active pupils who exercise in or before class.
In Finland kids spend far more time playing outside and aren’t rushed into the education system. Compulsory schooling only starts at age 7.
WHATEVER IT TAKES
There is a widespread cultural phenomenon throughout Finland’s education system and it is one of doing “whatever it takes” to get a child to where they need to be academically.
This might be a headmaster taking a child under their wing as a personal mentee to letting them express themselves with how they dress or flex their wiggles by letting them get outside more. This approach is more easily demonstrated by the fact that Finish schools have dedicated SEN teams available to each class ensuring that each child benefits from their education equally.
Teachers in Finland are highly educated and require a masters degree (5-7 years in the making) in order to be qualified to teach. They are then given a great deal of autonomy in the process and are respected within their communities far more than in other countries.
With the commitment of so many years under their belts and the regard for their profession being highly placed they are also far more likely to view teaching as a lifelong career which bodes well in terms of retaining the highly educated better qualified staff for longer.
Can UK schools adopt a more Finnish approach right now?
Well by taking a leaf from the Finnish schools habit of encouraging physical literacy in the school day. Whilst we know that schools are in no position to suddenly introduce 15 minutes of play before every lesson however hundreds have already started to include standing desks to allow children some physical freedom in the classroom.
Standing whilst you work can have the same effect of improved engagement, academic performance, personal well-being and good mental health. By letting kids stand and move more whilst they work schools are reportedly reaping the benefits similar to the schools whose children are allowed additional playtime and outdoor exercise.
LITTLE TO NO HOMEWORK / THE INNER MOTIVATOR
So what else separates Finland’s process from our own?
Well Children are given little to no homework but most importantly kids are encouraged to tap into their inner motivation. Teachers and school systems focus on working out psychologically how best to stimulate a child’s own inner motivation. Teaching them not to work to tests well but instead how to think analytically.
Goals are set but by the kids themselves. They are asked to identify their own goals and these might be yearly or weekly but the emphasis is on the child taking ownership of their own journey.
This seems to go hand in hand with the desire to teach them not to perform for others but for themselves. A key component of the system which seems integral to its success. In short they introduce a joy of learning by taking away the side British children, bemoan. Tests, homework, few breaks…working to satisfy someone else’s standards.
The overarching educational reform Finland dared to implement has turned them into a world leader of education. They seemingly afford their teachers and pupils far more respect than we do nationally and importantly both now outperform us. So if you’re a teacher or headmaster and you think you can take a leaf out of the Finish playbook. Then don’t wait for national reform.
As Ghandi was apparently mis-quoted as saying. “Be the change you want to see in the world.” And implement some positive class or school wide changes in your institution. Show other schools, your pupils and communities that you are prepared to improve and change for the better. Positive change is contagious. It simply has to start somewhere.