Geeking Out About The Finns

You know you’re a bit of an educational nerd when reading about a documentary on the Finnish school system gets you all tingly.

I’ve actually read many articles about Finland’s educational system in the past few years, and I’ve just loved what I’ve read. I had no idea someone had made a movie about it! It’s called The Finnish Phenomenon: Inside the World’s Most Surprising School System. Spiffy. Unfortunately, it’s not on Netflix yet. But I’ll be keeping my eye out. It’s making me salivate just to think about it. (See? Totally geeking out.)

Since I’ve given myself a mandate to get to bed early tonight, I’m not going to get started about all the things I love about the Finnish education system. Hmmm . . . nope. Can’t help myself. I’ll give you a few things, just to show some of the contrast to our current model:

– Kids don’t officially start school until age 7. (I don’t really care that much about what age kids start school, but I appreciate that they’ve proven that earlier isn’t necessarily better when it comes to academics.)
– Teachers give very little homework (average 30 minutes/night at the high school level).
– Teachers follow a broad, basic national curriculum, but have lots of freedom to tailor curriculum to their students.
– Kids spend less time in school. (The school I read about a few years ago started around 8:30 and students were finished around 1:00 or 2:00.)
– Teachers have more free time to plan and reflect on their classes.
– At age 16, students go on to college or to high-quality, meaningful tech training programs.
– They do very (very!) little standardized testing.
– Teachers are trained well and then trusted to do their job.
– Recess is seen as integral to the educational experience. (The minister of education said that if kids don’t play, they can’t learn. Duh.)
– In one school I read about, kids help with all aspects of taking care of the school, from helping in the lunch room to helping the janitors. And there was great attention paid to making the physical environment welcoming and comfortable.

These elements (and more – that’s a rather short list, and doesn’t even include some of the best stuff) have proven to work in Finland, and work smashingly. Forty years ago, Finland’s education system was in the dumps. They turned it around, and now they score at the top of most international tests for high school students. It’s a fascinating model, and one that includes many elements that I personally consider best for students and teachers. There are so many great details in the links below. If you have any interest in education at all, I encourage you to read them. Some really good stuff.

So, I will leave you with a trailer for the film:

And the article someone posted on Facebook that got me started on all of this tonight: (Check out the picture of the classroom in the middle of the article. That is one hip and funky teacher!)

And a nice review of the film written by an American teacher (which also give a lot of information about the Finnish system):

This stuff just makes me giddy. 🙂

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Annie writes about life, motherhood, world issues, beautiful places, and anything else that tickles her brain. On good days, she enjoys juggling life with her husband and homeschooling her children. On bad days, she binges on chocolate chips and dreams of traveling the world alone.

Comments 3

  1. Cat – It’s definitely true that you couldn’t take the Finnish system and plop it into American schools, for some of the reasons you mention. I’m not sure I’m sold on the language argument, though, since students in Finland learn English and Swedish along with Finnish. I had read about the TV dubbing, and Finland apparently has a very strong culture of reading in general, which definitely helps. Finland also doesn’t have the cultural and economic diversity we have here, which provides a whole separate set of challenges. But I think there is a lot that we could learn from them if we’re willing to change some of our beliefs about education.

    Another thing I like about the Finnish system is that the teachers stay with the same students for several years. It’s much easier to teach someone you know really well, and it’s easier for kids to not have to adjust to a new teacher every year. The teacher-student relationship is truly a relationship. As a teacher, you get know your students’ learning styles, you get a feeling for when they need to be pushed and when they need extra help, and you develop bonds of trust.

    And then there’s this:
    “Educational excellence in Finland is a broad concept that spans far beyond academic achievement measured in standardized tests. Indeed, quality of life, overall well-being, and happiness are important criteria when teachers and schools decide whether their individuals or organizations have performed well or not. Artistic and cultural achievements are seen in most of our schools as the main indications of being an educated individual.”
    I just love that. 🙂

  2. There are a couple of caveats to the Finnish phenomenon, however (not that Finland isn’t great – just some things about why it can’t be directly replicated in other countries).

    – Finnish is more phonetically regular than many languages, so its easier to learn to read. Hence, starting at 7 doesn’t put kids behind. It’s the same with students in the US who learn to read in Spanish. The bilingual students learn to read much quicker than the students in English classes, so they are ahead in almost every subject – they just have more time (until they transition to English, which is often poorly-managed).
    – THe number of people in Finland doesn’t warrant the expense of producing a lot of Finnish TV or even dubbing. They watch a lot of TV with subtitles, so kids HAVE to read if they want to watch TV. If that isn’t a motivator, I don’t know what is.
    – The culture in Finland tends to be more uniform and they have more social supports. For example, one reason school starts so early in the US is so that breakfast can be provided. We could start later and end earlier if there were more kinds of other supports for kids and families, like subsidized day care and more meal assistance.

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