Finland’s education system ranks at the top of the world by almost every measure, in all sorts of rankings. How do they do it? How is the US education system compared to Finland? To get more information, I watched The Finland Phenomenon:Inside the World’s Most Surprising School System, from the Robert Compton Documentary series on Global Education, directed by Sean T. Faust. In my first post, I looked at the differences between Finland’s school system and our school system and then at how the Finnish educational system structured.
How else do Finnish schools differ?
US education system compared to Finland
In Finland, they actively try not to punish students for mistakes and there’s very little testing. In past research, I was reading this as “little standardized testing.” But from watching this film, I think that there’s very little testing overall, even chapter testing. They emphasize student involvement in class – trying for 40% teacher talking / 60% student talking, and projects. The projects are long and are done completely in class. My kids tend to get projects as homework. If the project is done at school, it’s a group project where they often feel like they end up with unmotivated students and do most of the work. The result is they often end up bringing quite a bit of it home as homework.
There’s very little homework in Finland. For a ninth grader (which is not in their equivalent of high school yet, more like middle school), it’s only about 3 hours per week. That’s less than an hour per day.
Technology for learning vs. teaching
Contrary to what I read somewhere that the United States spends too much money on technology in the classroom with no results, I saw a lot of technology in the Finnish schools in this film. Students were using the computers in collaborative on-line learning environments, to do involved projects, looking up subjects on Wikipedia (Wikipedia is frowned upon in American schools) and working with electronics. But instead of emphasizing technology for teachers to teach with, they emphasize technology for students to learn with. My own kids understood the difference when they watched the film. They immediately thought about all their teachers that never learned how to use the ipad the district gave them last year.
Encourage traits that lead to entrepreneurship and innovation
Other techniques that seemed more prevalent in the Finland schools, than in schools in the US, were teaching entrepreneurship and innovation. In Finland, they emphasize using education to develop a love of learning and to foster curiosity, and the schools emphasize the importance of social bonding. Along with not seeing mistakes as bad, this all sounds similar to what I’ve been reading about fostering entrepreneurship.
At the end of the film, they talked about a conference on the future of teaching in Finland, and it sounded a lot like some of the what I’ve been hearing in the United States. In fact, it made me wonder if a lot of the interviews I heard were more what Finland schools are trying to attain and less about what they’ve actually achieved in the past. Maybe everything in the Finland school system isn’t as rosy as I’ve heard.
On the other hand, even if you’re doing something relatively well, you can almost always improve. And from the standpoint of the research education mindset, they would always continue to look for ways to improve. One quote that I especially liked, was that it was important to “talk about the future of education in a non-punitive way.” This is, in a way of looking forward instead of griping about the past. A good lesson for many of us in many different areas.
So, what does this tell me about how to help my own kids navigate our current system? Well, not a lot. But it does reinforce the idea that lots of homework isn’t needed to turn out smart kids that are interested in innovation, research, and entrepreneurship. What do you think?