Much has been said of late about the amazing success of Finnish schools. In many ways they are the antithesis of U.S. schools. Everything that we have done in an effort to improve our educational system, Finland has done the opposite. To many Americans the system would seem to be counter-intuitive, but the results are a proof of concept.
Recess – In Finland students spend around one third of the day at recess. This may sound like a lot, but when you consider that this is broken up into many small breaks, it can sound more manageable. These frequent breaks make the day less monotonous for students. After each 45 minute lesson, students go outside for a 15 minute recess. This success of this routine is backed up by the science. When the human body sits for too long, the brain begins to shut down. Obviously students need their brains working at their best in order to make the time in class as effective as possible. Allowing students time to move and play gives them a chance for their brain to stay engaged in the class work.
This has also allowed the school day to be shorter. Students spend only around 4 1/2 hours in school a day. They also start school later; while publicly funded day cares are available at younger ages, mandatory school does not begin until age 7. Despite what many people might think, less class time has not had an adverse effect on education, but may be contributing to its success.
One surprise however, is that even with so much outside time, Finnish students are not getting that much more physical activity. While free play is of more value to getting students less distracted in the classroom than teacher directed play, it may be necessary to integrate some structure to prevent kids from spending this time in sedentary activities.
Testing – In Finland, student assessment is left up to individual teachers until graduation, when a single, comprehensive test is administered. This saves class time for instruction. Testing would also conflict with the intention of getting students more active. Formal testing is a stressful activity. Students free of this stress are able to get more enjoyment out of school. When you enjoy something, you are more likely to prize it, remember it, and value it.
Teaching – In Finland, being a teacher is such a lucrative career that only 1 in 10 graduate applicants are accepted for the required master’s degree program. Incomes for teachers are on par with other professionals. Teachers are a highly valued resource, and given far more respect. Teachers also have more freedom to make their own decisions for their classroom. While they are given a generalized curriculum, they are free to tailor the lessons to their students. Teachers are trusted to keep their students on track and find ways to give them the assistance and attention that they need. Students are not held back for poor performance, but are instead given special attention. This way they are not stigmatized by their peers. They are able to avoid repeating the same information, which would make anyone bored.
Administrators – Those who are in charge of making decisions about school policy are recruited from within the educational system, instead of from the outside. This means that they are largely former teachers. They understand the struggles, and they understand the students. This means that they are better equipped to make decisions that will be beneficial.
Public Funding – Rather than having funds drained into private schools, and allowing vast disparities between the education of the haves and the have-nots, Finland had only publicly funded schools. This means that anyone who has an idea has only one place to enact it, so that everyone receives the benefits. Schools do not have to compete with one another, but are encouraged to work together, as are teachers. This team mentality allows everyone to succeed, rather than only those on the winning side.
Finland has a lot that they can teach the world. The experiments that they have undertaken prove that more is not necessarily better. Having a balance is the best way to achieve success.