The news was stunning in the West, in 2001, when it was discovered that Finland was ranked at the top after a standardized test was done to see how well students in developed countries were performing. With all of the available resources at hand to support student learning, Western students were preforming well below expectations and more so, below students in countries far less equipped and resourced. The question was: Why were students in Finland doing so well?
A close look at Finland’s approach to education reveals several reasons for success. Foremost among the reasons is that Finland teaches have high status, receive much professional support, and receive wages comparable to highly paid professionals.
In Finland, teachers teach about half the time Western teachers do; about four hours a day. Another two hours are given to professional development. Teachers are able to reflect on their instructional skills almost immediately, thereby allowing them to make corrections, sharpen approaches, or develop new tactics. The time allotted each day for evaluation and analysis of practice, result in a much improved confidence in the material taught in general and the calming environment in which teaching is done.
Parents, administrators, and students alike treat teachers with a similar respect they accord a medical practitioner or other highly regarded professional. In some instances, it could be said that Finns have a greater trust in their public school teachers than they do in other governmental institutions.
It must be noted that becoming a teacher in Finland is no small endeavour. Teachers are required to have a master’s degree and undergo a vigorous teacher training program that lasts for five years. Teachers in the secondary panel are expected to have a master’s degree in the subject area in which they intend to teach. In addition, teachers are expected to complete their master’s degree with a well-researched dissertation.
Another note-worthy point about Finland’s educational approach is that it does not have national standardized test and teachers and schools are not rewarded or punished based on student performance. No school in Finland is blamed for poor performance of students, neither are schools rewarded for high performance. Teachers are solely responsible for setting and evaluating student expectations. The government has no say in this area.
This next point is key to student success in Finland and should be clearly noted. Students in the early grades in Finland have a lot of time devoted to recess. In the West, we talk about the fact that students learn through play, but there is no follow through with that stated view. In fact, our schools tend to ensure that students have less time to play. The moment a child arrives at school in the West, the pressure is on to conform to the strict restraints that the system has in place. To do otherwise is not acceptable. So, for many students, school can be a restrictive environment,(allow me to be candid) much like a prison
We need to set our students free so that they can learn easily and quickly. We also need to re-examine the preparedness of teachers and provide them with lots of professional development among other things. That’s a start to moving toward a higher place, if not the top position.
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