The purpose of this blog is to know and understand the teacher's perspective concerning current issues on education reform and the teaching profession. Inputs from the ones who probably knows what is best for students academically -- the teachers -- are rarely considered in decision making of policies. Yet, these so-called education experts and lawmakers dictate how we do our jobs and what we should teach. That's not right!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Lessons Learned...from Finland

We are the champions, my friends
And we'll keep on fighting till the end...
~ Queen

Throughout the national debate of education reform, many have talked about Finland and considered following their lead in education reform. So what is the big deal about Finland? According to the most recent rankings of The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), perhaps the most rigorous international educational assessment tool used for comparison among 57 developed countries, Finland is ranked #1 in science and mathematics, and #2 in reading. In fact, last year, more than 100 foreign delegations came to Finland to discover their secrets to success in their schools. It is important to note that Finland's rise to the top didn't occur overnight; within the past 25 years, Finland gradually rose from nearly the bottom of the educational ranking to all the way to the number one spot. So how did they do it? Based on several articles, below is a compiled list of ways Finland turn their schools around from mediocre to top-notched.

  • Equal opportunities
    • Reduce the achievement gap between the rich and the poor (smallest gap of all wealthiest nations)
    • Provide completely free basic education to all (including instruction, school materials, school meals, health care, dental care, commuting, special needs education, and remedial teaching)
    • Use same per pupil rate for ALL students -- no rich or poor schools
    • Offer free education to colleges and universities
  • Comprehensiveness of education
    • Encompass nine years of schooling at ages 7-16
    • Have non-selection of students
    • Push for strong emphasis on quality pre-schooling
    • Separate students to an academic high school or a vocational school once they reach the ninth grade -- no "college for all" or "college's the way to go" mantras
    • Distribute more accountability for learning on the student, not the teacher
    • Focus on a more realistic academic potential of the entire student population
  • Competent teachers
    • Upgrade the teacher profession; made it highly attractive, with only 15% of applicants accepted
    • Are highly qualified and committed
    • Work independently and have strong work autonomy
    • Require teachers to complete a 3-yr graduate school preparatory program for free, including a stipend for living expenses; teachers must possess a Master's degree to work in the classroom
    • Spend nearly half of their time in school in high-level professional development, collaborative planning and working with parents
    • Respect and trust their teachers by the public
  • Student counseling and special needs education
    • Provide well-accommodating individualized support for special needs students
    • Integrate special and regular education as much as possible
    • Assist upper grade students with further education options and studying methods
  • Encouraging evaluations
    • Eliminate mandated standardized testing
    • Use evaluation results for support and encouragement purposes for the school and students
  • Significance of education in society
    • Have a greater highly-educated  population
    • Value and support education
    • Have a broad political consensus on education policies
  • A flexible system of empowerment
    • Possess flexibility within the education system, with delegation of duties and support within school administration
    • Follow a set of laws and decrees, as well as a national core curriculum
    • Run completely by local municipalities
    • Allows schools and teachers greater independent autonomy in provisions and contents of education
  • Cooperation
    • Foster interactions and partnership building as well as a supportive climate
    • Cooperate with all levels of administration, other schools, etc. for the development of schools
    • Collaborate with teachers organizations, subject organizations, and school leadership organizations
  • A student-oriented, active conception of learning
    • Have a more relaxed, informal learning environment
    • Limit use of technology in classroom instruction
    • Focus less on data-driven instruction and more on differentiated instruction
  • Miscellaneous
    • Have support from a knowledge-based business community, like Nokia
    • Focus on 21st century skills like creative problem-solving, not test prep
    • Have youth that engage in social activities as American youth and most speak in their native language while fluent in Swedish and English -- low immigration
    • Show patience as change took place by the public
    • No extra-curricular activities
Can any of these be adopted and adapted into American's schools? Maybe. Maybe not. However, what's important is we now have an idea of how Finland schools became successful and we, as a village, can come together and experiment with some reasonable and fair ways in following Finland's philosophy on educating children: Everyone has something to contribute and those who struggle in certain subjects should not be left behind.


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