Finland schools are one of the best kept secrets across the globe. Their approach to education is quite unique, and does not follow the norm when discussing public education matters. However, Finnish students score near the very top in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) every year in reading, mathematics, and science. In comparison, the United States is ranked 21st out of the 34 countries that participate. What are their secrets to achieving such academic supremacy?
Normal Finnish School Day
Their school day is pretty different than what is considered the norm in other parts of the world. The school days in Finland are typically five hours long. This includes mandatory 15 minute recess breaks after every class. Plus, they start up the day an hour or two later in the morning so the students do not enter the school still tired from just waking up. Also, students do not start attending school until they are seven years old.
Compared to other countries, Finnish students spend quite a bit less time in school during the year than their counterparts. Finnish children ages 9-11 spend an average of 640 hours in school a year. For the same age group, England students spend an average of 899 hours in school a year. In Japan, they spend 800 hours on average in school a year. In the United States, students spend an average of about 950 hours in school a year.
Obviously, it appears Finland is onto something since they have a history of producing the highest test scores in the Western world. They are also ranked number one for being the most literate nation. Maybe a shorter, more compact school day is exactly what is needed to keep the students’ interest without wearing them down.
I know what you are thinking. You are thinking that with the school days being so short in Finland that the students must be given an immense amount of homework to make up for that lack of school time. You couldn’t be more wrong. Finnish students have very little amount of homework everyday, if any. Most students report that they complete their homework in about fifteen minutes.
Finnish students also do not take standardised tests like most schools in other countries where they choose from multiple choice answers in several subjects. This allows for the teacher to instruct on what is really important in content areas instead of teaching to the test. They actually respect and value the teachers’ opinions on what the students should be learning.
The teaching profession is ranked just behind doctors in Finland as the most respected profession. Quite a bit different than other countries. Also, every teacher in Finland has attained some sort of Masters degree in education. Government officials in Finland value teachers and continue to make strides in the funding of education. Very different than most countries where politicians tend to declare teachers are part of the problem instead of part of the solution.
With a five hour school day for the students, this also allows teachers ample opportunity to plan valuable lessons for the classroom. Teachers have the opportunity as well to meet with colleagues to discuss concerns and create better curriculum. This is in contrast to school across the globe where teachers are always on the go and seldom have time to meet or plan with anyone. Because of this, teachers in Finland usually continue in education until they retire. In other countries, the turnover rate is extremely high, where almost half of all teachers choose to leave their profession by their tenth year of teaching.
Time to Rethink Education
There are things every country can learn from Finland’s approach to education. With many government officials unhappy about test scores across the globe, maybe it is time to consider radical education reform. The definition of insanity is doing the exact same thing over and over and expecting the outcome to change. This perfectly explains how schooling and education is approached by many countries. Perhaps it is time for a different approach?