HomeeducationBroad Education Techniques in the US vs Finland

As I was knitting my little fingers off in a not-quite-so-mad dash to get cracking on a Christmas gift for someone, I watched a great documentary by the name of The Finland Phenomenon.

The differences in philosophy between Finland and the US caught me a little off guard.

Philosophy
I spent the majority of my childhood years in upstate New York, and was extremely lucky to go to the middle- and high-schools that I did. They had excellent programs for special education, even back in the ’80s and ’90s when much of the information about learning disabilities was still being discovered.

Finnish primary school built in 1900.
by Estromiz, Public Domain, via WikiMedia Commons

However, there was still a degree of segregation present in the schools. Many kids who were classified as learning disabled were kept separate from the more normal kids to receive specialized education in middle school. Although I was more mainstreamed in high school, which may or may not have been a great idea, several of my peers were not.

As a result, there was a deep social chasm between “normal” students and those who were different. Although I didn’t see as many problems with bullying in high school, middle school was terrible.

From what I gathered from my research, in Finland, all children are supposed to get that individualized teaching that’s so necessary for success. Although they start school at 7 years of age instead of 5, they’re still screened earlier than kids here for learning challenges, and receive proper compensation.

Children with specific learning disabilities are kept in the mainstream population, but receive extra help on a part time basis. This lack of segregation in addition to their philosophy of “school as a community” may have some part in their lower rate of bullying as a nation than what the US has.

In the video I’ve imbedded below, Pasi Sahlberg, brought up the lunch program they have, and the rational behind it. Schools provide the meals for free, and encourage the kids to eat properly. Through this example driven education, they teach the value of good food and general respect for people around them.


Thankfully, some schools have taken the Finnish philosophy to heart and have started using the KiVa program.

Work/Life Balance
When we’re kids, we don’t think much about the tricky balance between school life and our personal lives. Usually, we just take it in stride and go with the flow.

In America, kids are conditioned from an early age to get up early, spend a long time working or listening to teachers lecture, a very short lunch/recess period, maybe gym class, and then they either go home to do hours of homework or attend after school activities. In many ways, this is preparing them for the typical work days the majority of Americans experience.

Many schools don’t really teach much by way of the importance of personal development or how to actually balance work with life. That, in turn, makes it much more difficult for adults to figure the balance out once they’re out of their parents’ homes and in the ‘real world’.

The Finnish school day is quite a bit shorter than the American school day, and Finnish children don’t get as much homework to do as their American counter parts. This, in turn, allows them to pursue more interests and allows them to better learn how to care for themselves as individuals.

This, of course, also gives teachers a little more down time. Although some of them take that extra time for recreation, many use it figure out how to make the system better for future generations.

Importance of Education
What got me the most was how highly their culture regards education. Teaching programs in their universities are just as difficult to get into as those for medicine and law. They also required a personality assessment to make sure the candidates have the right kind of outlook for the profession.

Because there’s such a rigorous screening process to go through, more of their teachers stay in the profession until retirement, more students graduate secondary school and more continue onto college.

Teachers are also paid better there than they are here. Because the profession is so highly regarded, the country sees worth in putting their money into it. However, the overall system of education is also highly efficient, which means the allocated funds go further and there’s less chance of corruption.

Real Life Preparation

A formal prom in Finland.
by Suviko, [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr

Student class options are different, too. Once they graduate from the basic level of education, kids have the choice between doing vocational training or a more academic track, depending on their interests and goals.

In the documentary I’d mentioned at the beginning of this entry, the host was allowed to sit in on a few classes. They were extremely interactive, and the teacher encouraged the kids to think for themselves instead of parroting answers back.

That creative thought is what really encourages learning, and anchors facts in the mind. Information from memorizing dry facts and reading text books only ‘sticks’ for some people.

For others, like those of us labeled as learning disabled, that sort of teaching is not effective at all. It makes me wonder how different things would have been if activity driven lessons were more prevalent than rote lessons.

It also makes me wish that I had more options in what sort of teaching was available to me when I was younger.

Testing
Standardized testing also came up. As I’d alluded to in my last entry, those tests really aren’t accurate measures of intelligence. In many ways, they’re not accurate of performance, either.

Although the US system is pretty heavily dependent on that form of measurement, Finland only requires one standardized test when kids are 16. They measure overall success by sampling kids in different levels of education throughout the country, instead of testing every pupil.

It would be wonderful if the higher ups in the US educational system would take a look at places like Finland and Canada, which has similar public schooling available, to see how well their philosophies help the students, teachers and society in general.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some outstanding schools in the US, and wonderful teachers, but the system needs a lot of work. Sports are great, luxury is nice, but the philosophies of equality and critical thinking need to come to the forefront if we really want to be at our best.

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