Students in Finland seem like slackers. They don’t start schooling until the age of seven. There is no testing until high-school. There is no standardized curriculum and hardly any “gifted” programs. Recess periods are long. Homework assignments are short. And yet, Finland is a global education powerhouse – Finnish students have consistently placed at the top of global reading, math and science rankings since 2000.
It wasn’t always so. In the 1970’s, Finland’s educational system was bureaucratic and broken. Then, the country put in place a long-term strategy to build a culture of learning. An investment was made in the development of quality of teachers – well-trained and provided full autonomy to teach. Teachers were allowed to develop high-quality learning curricula based on the needs of their classroom rather than an overly prescriptive core curriculum. Instead of measuring teachers on the test scores of their students, peer reviews and sharing of best practices were used. Deeper modes of learning were introduced in an unhurried pace.
Today, we live in a world of constant educational “reform” but we seem to be headed in the opposite direction to Finland. Standardization is increasing. Testing is on the rise. Schools are becoming highly politicized and pressurized environments, devoid of balance and harmony.
In the midst of this environment, how can you revive the love for learning in your home like Finland has done? Here are three strategies that you can adopt right away:
- Emphasize life-long learning over test scores. Finland was successful because they took a long term view to education. Practice the same principle at home. Reduce the after-school work-load and encourage your child to take their time solving a challenging math problem, enjoying the twists and turns along the way. Give them space to soak up a great novel, enjoying the character build-up or imagining the settings.
- Supplement your child’s education with non-standard materials. Once you accept that your child is more than a test score, you will be ready to try out different curricula. Give them one of our exercises in emotional intelligence or spatial reasoning. Have them read poetry or work on a watercolor painting. Introduce holistic problems that combine subjects – literature, geometry and biology for example.
- Focus on quality educational materials over quantity of work. It is easy to get swept up in learning goals or worksheet completion targets. Instead select fewer worksheets and spend more time on each of them. For example, instead of using standard reading comprehension worksheet that can be completed in one sitting (1 page of text followed by mundane questions), give them a longer story with a deeper set of questions to be completed in several sittings. Give them questions that require inference and prediction, pondering the deeper issues overnight.
While it is difficult to escape today’s prevailing environment of standardization and testing, Finland’s success gives us hope that we can be better by being different. It was a key inspiration for our Website (Oppiya means “to learn” in the Finnish language). Try out these strategies at home and send us your thoughts!