For the past three years the Program for International Student Assessment has recognised Finland as a leading beacon of success in the field of child education. It presents stark opposition to a European education system that is based upon gruelling competition, fuelled by constant testing and gifted and talented programmes.
As preposterous as the idea may seem to educators, the Finns advocate a later start to primary education, generally less time in school and less homework. In Finland, children start school at the age of 7, a year later than in Britain, and are encouraged to have a life outside of study. The notion of experiencing a real childhood, instead of driving kids towards an early obsession with marks, is strongly fought for. On the advent of university, a single set of national exams are sat at the age of 18. Up to this point they are continually assessed in less pressurised environments.
Schools have thus avoided the elitism that runs rife in the British system…
Competitive conditions have not only been extracted from classrooms but from the larger educational framework. No system of league tables or publishing of exam results take place in Finland, eliminating the possibility of result driven learning or performance. Schools have thus avoided the elitism that runs rife in the British system, which has in effect allowed for the marketisation of high schools and worsened the ability of public education to attract the brightest brains. The necessity to analyse performance has not been ignored by the Finns though, with the national exams helping schools themselves to appraise their situation, instead of external bodies unaware of local conditions.
Some have argued that Finland’s success lies in the fact that it has low levels of immigrants and smaller numbers in general than countries like the UK. This is now proving to be an erroneous argument though, since it has emerged that over the last 15 years Finland is the European country that has had the highest degree of ethnic diversity. Separate classes are run for young immigrant children until their Finnish is deemed to equal those of their peers. What is more, these children are than encouraged to continue advancing their mother tongues alongside. This is an integral part of the country’s promotion of bilingualism instead of the monolingual culture that dominates closer to home.
…directing funds to poorer schools in deprived areas in order to deal with special needs children more attentively.
Education is clearly a tenant of Finnish society, with the government investing more money in this sector instead of cutting back services. All children are entitled to a free school lunch and later university education if they choose to study further. Additionally, a policy of positive discrimination has been employed since the 1990s, directing funds to poorer schools in deprived areas in order to deal with special needs children more attentively.
The significance of education in Finnish society is also apparent from the primacy given to libraries in public places. They are situated in or beside areas of great human traffic such as shopping malls, instead of pushed out into the backwaters of communities. The social importance given to education in Finland has elevated the position of teachers also. Teaching is a profession taught in prestigious institutions, which provide rigorous courses to those who are regarded as the building blocks of the next generation.
Finnish education has not veen treated as a stepping-stone in the creation of a generation of competitive and performance driven youth. Teachers are not part of a results conveyer belt but instead have the time and space to tend to the individual educational needs of the their pupils. The removal of market principles from the school system itself has undoubtedly served the Finns well. Its wider replication is doubtful, however, as such a model would arguably be contrary to the values emitted from Europe’s top crop.
Images courtesy of the Finnish Tourist Board