Education in Finland: A Lesson for the United States?

In recent years the United States has been increasingly focused on standards, data and testing in the classroom. The older the students are the more pressure there is to cram in learning time and assessments to ensure students are meeting benchmark goals for academic progress. Unfortunately, as this focus on standards and performance rages on, the pressure and push-down of skills is descending through the grade levels. For the last several years, pre-k and kindergarten standards and curriculum have begun teaching and assessing children on higher level objectives than what they really ought to be learning. Our pre-k and kindergarten standards are now what first grade standards used to be a decade ago. Children and the rate and sequence of their development have not changed but the expectations for what they can and will learn have. This is an issue that has permeated all levels and all types of schools – public, private, charter, Pre-K centers, elementary, middle, high school, etc.

As the United States continually works to refine their education system, it would be wise to take a look at how other countries are organizing their school days and curriculum to best support student learning. Finland is ranked third in the world on the 2012 PISA assessment, the Program for International Student Assessment, ranking only behind Korea and Japan. The United States, sadly, ranked 21 among the 34 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries.

CNN and The Atlantic recently featured articles on education in Finland. Below are a couple of points we found interesting and worth thinking about:

  • Finnish children do not start school until they are seven years old – when they are “ready.”
  • In Finland students have far less homework than in the United States.
  • Students take only one standardized test in their entire pre-college education, in their final year of high school. In the United States, standardized testing occupies up to one third of instructional time.
  • After every 45 minutes of instruction, Finnish children of all ages get a 15 minute recess break. The break can be indoors or out, where the type of play is not of import. Research supports this model: Anthony Pellegrini, professor of educational psychology at the University of Minnesota, found that students were more attentive following the 15 minutes of play and less attentive when the break was delayed. His research also found that when the play time is teacher-directed it loses its effectiveness. Students must be allowed to play freely and without teacher guidance for it to be valuable. In the United States, 40 percent of school districts have shortened or altogether eliminated recess time in an effort to increase instructional time.

These two articles certainly have us thinking about how our school days are structured. What do you think?

Read the full articles here:

Why Finland’s Schools Are Top-Notch: http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/06/opinion/sahlberg-finland-education/index.html

How Finland Keeps Kids Focused Through Free Play: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/06/how-finland-keeps-kids-focused/373544/

Authored by Jordan Khadam-Hir, Rice University School Literacy and Culture

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