Finland’s Education System: a win-win for all?

students are back to school

It’s back to school time in Doha. Back to waking up early, back to spending hours in traffic and back to spending the afternoons doing homeworks. The race starts at Kindergarten here when kids as young as 4 are prepared for the entry exam/interview to obtain a seat in a ‘top’ primary school of their choice. In Mauritius too, the competition is quite tough and private tuition starts in all subjects as early as the 4th grade of primary school and usually only ends at the end of high school! I cannot but ask: why not simply copy Finland’s education system?

When the first results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) were out, not even the Finns could believe it. PISA is a standardised test given to 15-year-olds in more than 40 global venues. It revealed Finnish youth to be the best young readers in the world. Three years later, they were the leaders in math and in 2006, first in science. In the 2009 PISA, they came second in science, third in reading and sixth in math among nearly half a million students worldwide.

Some Interesting Facts (from Smithsonian):

  • According to a survey by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the differences between the strongest and weakest students are the smallest in the world.
  • There are no mandated standardised tests in Finland, apart from one exam at the end of high school.
  • There are no rankings, no comparisons or competition between students, schools or regions.
  • Finland’s schools are publicly funded.
  • Formal education only starts at the age of 7.
  • Everyone in the government agencies running them, are educators; not business people, not politicians.
  • Every school has the same national goals and recruits staff from the same pool of university-trained educators.

The result is that a Finnish kid is given the opportunity to get the same quality education no matter where he lives. The majority of educators in Finland are professionals selected from the top 10% of its graduates who then study for a masters degree in education. Many schools are quite small to enable teachers to know every student. Teachers are always trying new methods to enable students to succeed. No wonder 93% of Finns graduate from academic or vocational high schools, 17.5 percentage points higher than the United States, and 66% pursue higher education, the highest rate in the European Union.

Australia and Mauritius

It was fortunate for our kids that, when drafting the National Curriculum, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) reflected on practices in countries that performed ‘better’ like Singapore and Finland. Good on Australia for that! However, due to a change in Australia’s federal government, the National Curriculum has only been partly implemented till now.

With a change of government in Mauritius too, the educational system is being reformed with a nine-year schooling system being introduced. It looks as if only the form is changing, most of the content staying the same. The competition will only shift at a later level, the tuitions will still be there and the severe competition at the end of the secondary schooling will still exist. The government has not unveiled the whole reform plan yet so I am hoping there will be more positives than the present system has.

Curriculum is important but so are educators. Educators should be given both the means and the motivations to be able to perform well. Unlike how I felt when I was working (both in Perth and in Mauritius), educators cannot simply be a number in the system, which can move from one school to another at any decided time. They cannot be expected to give their best when education has started to look more like a business where everything is about making money or cutting costs; they cannot be expected to look at teaching as a vocation and not a job, when they are only given respect according to how their students perform. Wake up people, education is NOT business! Check out Finland.

A great read is fillingmymap.com/2015/04/15/11-ways-finlands-education-system-shows-us-that-less-is-more/

Waiting for the Australian review and for the Mauritian Nine-Year Schooling Reform Project…

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