Imagine an education system with no standardized testing, no competition, and an emphasis on making school an equitable environment for all students. In Finland, these schools are a reality. Finland has been named the country with the best educational practices, time and time again. Their academic performance is ranked 3rd in the world — even above the United States. Let’s explore some of the educational approaches Finland is taking and find out why their students are so successful.
No Standardized Testing
Handing every student the same questions and telling them to bubble in circles accordingly has become a norm in the U.S. education system. Implementing nation-wide standardized tests, like the ACT, SAT, and subject tests, creates an environment where students are cramming information to score as high as possible on an exam. Standardized testing is a generic method for assessing kids based on how well they know how to answer multiple-choice questions. These exams are usually not optional and are significant factors in determining college admissions. Students are even told that retaking these exams looks “bad” if they did poorly the first time, creating immense pressure to avoid mistakes.
For schools in Finland, the closest thing they have to standardized testing is called the National Matriculation Exam. This testis optional and graded on an individual scale that is determined by their teachers. In Finland, a student has the same overlap of teachers throughout their years of schooling, unlike in the U.S. where you are assigned different teachers for different subjects every year. This overlap means that their instructors can accurately and fairly scale the student’s scores. If the student decides to take it, that will be only one “standardized” exam by the time the student finishes the U.S.’s equivalent of high school.
Collaboration, Not Competition
In American high schools, rank within your class can be a common stressor. Class rank can bring negative aspects like low self-esteem and more of a focus on what rank the student will graduate with, and less emphasis on actually learning. When students are assigned in an order that is supposed to dictate their probability of success, they begin to lose interest in the content they are learning. Rating a student’s progress relative to one another can be destructive for how little information the rank provides.
In Finland, there are no lists of top-performing students or even schools, meaning no valedictorians, honor societies and classes for gifted students. They do not see education as a competition. Instead, they encourage students to learn from one another. The Finnish education system does not bother with merit-based systems because they discourage students and add unnecessary stress.
Creating a Healthy Learning Environment
The Finnish education system wasn’t always the way it is today. The government in Finland wanted to change its educational system after the Second World War. Their goal was to create a more humanistic and gradual approach to improving the youth’s education. Their government created a list of priorities they wanted their schools to achieve and completely revamped their system to implement the best practices possible. These priorities included:
- Using education to balance social inequality
- Free meals at schools
- More accessibility to health care
In the U.S., many have stuck with the same educational practices we have always had. In recent years, it seems as though education has not been a priority and has not received the funding necessary to make the appropriate changes. However, our world is changing rapidly, and we need to adjust everything in our lives, especially something as fundamental as education, accordingly. This change is necessary because the future of our country relies on our youth, who needs to receive the best possible education. All we need to do is take the initiative and fund an entirely new system with new, more productive values.
With less homework, later school start times and providing possible professional careers for students who choose not to attend college, schooling in Finland is significantly less stressful. There are a variety of programs that prepare students for jobs that don’t require a master’s degree. This support helps students explore other possible options besides the generic route of going to college immediately after high school and pursuing a traditional, high ranking job.
In the past, to get a “good job” in the U.S., you needed a high school diploma. Now, to earn a decent wage, you need to have at least completed a four-year degree, with more competitive companies requiring a Master’s, Ph.D., etc. It’s vital to recognize that college is not for everyone. Financial restraints aside, many people don’t need college to follow their desired career path. Those who don’t pursue some form of higher education should not settle for a profession less than what they want.
Learning Through Play
Learning through play has become an underestimated concept. It is universal and only natural for kids to develop a love for learning through games and interactive lessons. More information is retained, and brain activity is at a high: so why do we continue to discredit using playful learning tactics?
Children can develop social and cognitive skills (like problem-solving divergent thinking, and language), as well as gain self-confidence and learn more about the world around them. It is critical to incorporate games into early child development to teach kids how to problem solve and think critically. Research suggests that learning through play motivates and encourages kids to engage in opportunities to learn. This research and application is a massive factor how Finland has earned its reputation as having the best education system in the world.
In conclusion, there has been a clear trend in differences in the Finnish and American education systems: The U.S. favors number rankings and outperforming one another, while Finland supports growth through play without unnecessary added pressures. The U.S. should begin taking steps towards adopting the same values as Finland’s education system. Making education personalized, collaborative, healthy, and playful will enhance children’s development, and will, therefore, enhance our future.
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