This month’s edition of the Smithsonian Magazine has an article that asks the questions Why Are Finland’s Schools Successful? Of course, the major theme of the piece is not just a profile of that country’s educational system but also comparing it with schools and students in the US, and especially our continuing efforts at “reform”.
Such international comparisons are pretty much meaningless for a variety of reasons but we seem to wallow in them anyway. So, if we’re going to play that game, what are some factors that make Finland’s schools “better”?
Teachers in Finland spend fewer hours at school each day and spend less time in classrooms than American teachers. Teachers use the extra time to build curriculums and assess their students. Children spend far more time playing outside, even in the depths of winter. Homework is minimal. Compulsory schooling does not begin until age 7. “We have no hurry,” said Louhivuori. “Children learn better when they are ready. Why stress them out?”
It’s almost unheard of for a child to show up hungry or homeless. Finland provides three years of maternity leave and subsidized day care to parents, and preschool for all 5-year-olds, where the emphasis is on play and socializing. In addition, the state subsidizes parents, paying them around 150 euros per month for every child until he or she turns 17. Ninety-seven percent of 6-year-olds attend public preschool, where children begin some academics. Schools provide food, medical care, counseling and taxi service if needed. Student health care is free.
There are no mandated standardized tests in Finland, apart from one exam at the end of students’ senior year in high school. There are no rankings, no comparisons or competition between students, schools or regions. Finland’s schools are publicly funded. The people in the government agencies running them, from national officials to local authorities, are educators, not business people, military leaders or career politicians.
The article has much more and is worth a read.
However, if you really want to compare Finland and the US when it comes to the education of our children, for me the main take-away from this article is not about curriculum or testing or school competition or how teachers are paid or any of the other crap that forms the core of discussions about improving our education system.
No, it’s that Finland has a society and government that genuinely cares about and supports the well-being of all kids and their families.
And the US, not so much and getting worse.