A More Progressive Education
By Jerry Brownstein
Many people question the effectiveness and the relevance of our current educational systems. It is felt that much of the time is spent learning things that are neither interesting to the students nor beneficial for what they will be doing in their lives. Many alternative methods have been created such as Montessori and Steiner schools, but perhaps the best example for a practical reform of education can be found in Finland.
Students from Finland achieve consistently higher scores in math, science and reading compared to those from other countries. This is puzzling to international educators, because the Finnish system goes against the tide of the conventional standard known as the “global education reform movement”. This widely accepted model is based on core subjects, competition, standardization, test-based accountability and control. By contrast, formal schooling in Finland does not start until the age of seven; homework is minimal; and testing does not begin until the students are teenagers. The impressive results of this radically different style of education have attracted the attention of teachers and governments from around the world.
Dr. Pasi Shalberg, a Finnish educator, says that high-quality teachers are at the heart of Finland’s educational success story. It started in the 1970’s when the government decided to require all teachers to have a master’s degree, and that the government would pay for it. As a result the teaching profession became highly respected. This is reflected in the fact that the University of Helsinki usually has over 2,400 people competing for 120 slots in their (fully subsidized) master’s program for schoolteachers. In fact, it is more difficult to get into teacher education than it is for law or medicine – quite a contrast to other Western countries.
The Finnish system of basic education goes from age 7 to 16, and after that most students continue on to either vocational or academic schools. Dr. Shalberg sums up the essence of the basic system this way: “The first six years of education are not about academic success. We don’t measure children at all. It’s about being ready to learn and finding your passion.”