Lynnell Hancock wrote for Smithsonian Magazine September 2011, Why Are Finland’s Schools Successful? Here’s a clue:
“Children from wealthy families with lots of education can be taught by stupid teachers,” Louhivuori said, smiling. “We try to catch the weak students. It’s deep in our thinking.”So what do they do? Drill the weak students on test questions? Nope:
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. Every school has the same national goals and draws from the same pool of university-trained educators. The result is that a Finnish child has a good shot at getting the same quality education no matter whether he or she lives in a rural village or a university town.Educators. Not business people.
It’s not about locking them inside the schoolroom early and late, either:
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?”Of course, Finns have a big advantage outside schools:
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.Oh, and they don’t have 1 in 13 adults in the prison system (jail, prison, probation, or parole), unlike Georgia. Funny how adults can pay more attention to their children when they’re not locked up.
Why did the Finns decide to do all this?
In 1963, the Finnish Parlia-ment made the bold decision to choose public education as its best shot at economic recovery. “I call this the Big Dream of Finnish education,” said Sahlberg, whose upcoming book, Finnish Lessons, is scheduled for release in October. “It was simply the idea that every child would have a very good public school. If we want to be competitive, we need to educate everybody. It all came out of a need to survive.”That situation sounds familiar somehow. Maybe we should consider a similar course: instead of cutting education budgets, make educating everybody a priority.
Then the Finns got serious about it:
The second critical decision came in 1979, when reformers required that every teacher earn a fifth-year master’s degree in theory and practice at one of eight state universities—at state expense. From then on, teachers were effectively granted equal status with doctors and lawyers. Applicants began flooding teaching programs, not because the salaries were so high but because autonomy and respect made the job attractive.Status for teachers? That sounds almost Confucian, almost Chinese! Oh, wait, Shanghai is one of the very few places in the world that outdoes Finland in education, by letting teachers teach, and not just knowledge: they teach creativity.
Maybe people around here should consider giving teachers more autonomy instead of trying to cram more teachers together into a larger school system. Maybe instead of treating education like a business, try to improve education.