09 January 2012

And here's how they do it in Finland

You may have guessed by now that one of the blog writers is an Education major...

Finland is a fascinating country for many reasons -- women receive three YEARS of maternity leave (not all of it paid) and picture books from the government on the birth of a child, the lack of sunlight makes many people depressed, children eat candy only once a week on "candy day", there are beautiful auroras, the word "not" is an inflected auxiliary (we not, he nots), and the Samis assign their children not only a name but also a melody.
Altogether one of the more interesting pockets of the planet.
There are an estimated 1500 Jews in Finland.

This post, though, is about the Finnish public schools, which are rated (using purely academic criteria - not on anything like self-control) as some of the best in the world.
Finland spends approximately $1000 less per student per year than America - but Finland has it easy: it is a country of Finns, not of emigrants, there are not many of them, and they are all literate in Finnish. They also pay exceedingly high taxes.

The purpose of this post is to mention a few points of interest in the Finnish school system, not to hold them up as ideals. Some, I believe, are better ideas than others.

Children enter school at age 7. Most attend kindergarden starting at age 6, but the kindergarden program is not very academic - mostly about play.
Teaching jobs are highly sought-after. Teachers must have at least a Master's degree.
Each teacher has his or her own office in the school. A teacher spends 20 hours a week teaching and 20 hours a week preparing. Teachers choose their own textbooks.
Classes are small, and there may be three teachers in a classroom, to ensure individual attention.
Teachers may stay with a particular class for two or even four years.
School typically starts at 8am and finishes at 2pm, and students have no more than half an hour of homework each night.
Skills like sewing, knitting, woodwork, downhill and cross-country skiing, and horseback riding are taught in school.
Students start learning English in 3rd grade, Swedish in 7th, and other languages in 8th.
Schools have a great deal of latitude in designing their own curricula.
Schools often have a common room with a functional fireplace.
Students do not wear shoes in school.
Outdoor recess is mandatory unless it's colder than -13 degrees Fahrenheit.
High school is not mandatory.
Hot lunches are free, university is subsidised, and children living in remote areas are picked up and dropped off by free taxi.

There are some contradictory articles on Finnish education - they do or don't use a great deal of technology, they do or don't have a great deal of testing, students do or don't address their teachers with an unusual degree of familiarity - and then there are all the liberal policies one would expect of a Nordic country.

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