Wednesday, April 6, 2011

'New Rock Stars of Global Education'

What's the best way to teach and students to learn? Ironically Finland avoids standardized testing but when it participates in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) run by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), they consistently place in the top three for reading, math and science.

Why are they so successful? An article in Time discovers that "Finland has a number of smart ideas about how to teach kids while letting them be kids. For instance, one teacher ideally stays with a class from first grade through sixth grade. That way the teacher has years to learn the quirks of a particular group and tailor the teaching approach accordingly." Also, rather than learning by rote drills and long hours at school, Finland focuses on experiential learning with a relatively short school day and minimal homework.

However, Finland's sweeping success is due largely to one important dynamic. "It's the quality of the teaching that is driving Finland's results."

As a result of a successful educational philosophy, many Finns want to become teachers creating a rich talent pool. For example, in 2008, 1,258 undergrads applied for training to become elementary-school teachers. Only 123, or 9.8%, were accepted into the five-year teaching program. As well, in Finland, "every teacher is required to have a master's degree. (The Finns call this a master's in kasvatus, which is the same word they use for a mother bringing up her child.)"

Moreover, in a departure from the '80s, Finland stopped "streaming" pupils to different math and language tracks based on ability. "People in Finland cannot be divided by how smart they are. It has been very beneficial." Next to go, in the '90s, were inspectors who oversaw annual school plans. "Schools were so hostile that the inspectors became afraid to make on-site tours."

"Finland is a society based on equity," says a school official. "Japan and Korea are highly competitive societies — if you're not better than your neighbor, your parents pay to send you to night school. In Finland, outperforming your neighbor isn't very important. Everybody is average, but you want that average to be very high."

As a 'retired' teacher whose heart was in the learning process, it's interesting to read about the educational philosophies which get bandied about. How wonderful for parents to see a teacher who knows the material, who can connect with their child, and who can ignite a life long passion for learning.

Image: Students measuring a tree in 'math' class.