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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Handling school education and economy: Lessons from Finland – II

Finland, much like Pakistan, was struggling with its educational and economic sectors but the tremendous roundabout it took serves many lessons for developing countries. Pakistan can improve upon its struggling institutions by following Finland's model.

Opinion |

Here, to understand the role of school and its link with social progress, one is reminded of the words of the great American philosopher, educational reformer, and psychologist, John Dewey, that he mentions in his book (1915) titled ‘The school and society and the child and the curriculum’. He points out, ‘We are apt to look at the school from an individualistic standpoint, as something between teacher and pupil, or between teacher and parent… And rightly so. Yet the range of the outlook needs to be enlarged.

What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children. Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; acted upon, it destroys our democracy. All that society has accomplished for itself is put, through the agency of the school, at the disposal of its future members… Only by being true to the full growth of all the individuals who make it up, can society by any chance be true to itself. And in the self-direction thus given, nothing counts as much as the school, for, as Horace Mann said, “Where anything is growing, one former is worth a thousand reformers”.’

All children throughout Finland are graded on an individualized basis and grading system set by their teacher. Tracking overall progress is done by the Ministry of Education, which samples groups across different ranges of schools’

Finland seems to have understood the importance of school education and has evolved it in ways that have allowed its citizens to become well-rounded individuals that are instilled with

a) the spirit of ‘cooperation’ over ‘competition’,

b) being ‘creative and innovative’ rather than adopting ‘rote learning’, primarily to pass exams,

c) the attribute that favors ‘quality’ over ‘quantity’, and

d) inspiration that looks to give more ‘freedom’ to students by schools being less controlling and pushing for conformity.

Hence, based on this though-process, Finland has evolved some innovative features for school education, as part of its overall education reform, which in turn, has positively contributed towards strengthening the economy and democracy there. In this regard, the Ministry of Education in Pakistan, which is currently in the process of bringing educational reform, should indeed look to learn from the reforms that have been taking place in Finland.

Read more: Handling school education and economy: Lessons from Finland – I

Firstly, providing equal opportunities to all students by creating policies to reduce the difference between the quality of schools across the country. Secondly, to increase creativity, promoting a culture of thinking, and diminishing the role of cramming material, there are no standardized tests in Finland with the exception of the National Matriculation Exam, whereby ‘…which is a voluntary test for students at the end of an upper-secondary school. All children throughout Finland are graded on an individualized basis and grading system set by their teacher. Tracking overall progress is done by the Ministry of Education, which samples groups across different ranges of schools’.

Thirdly, there is less focus on ‘teacher accountability’ and more on selecting teachers with excellent qualifications. In this regard, according to Pasi Sahlberg, director of the Finnish Ministry of Education, and author of ‘Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?’ ‘There’s no word for accountability in Finnish… Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.’

On the contrary, in Finland ‘Teaching programs are the most rigorous and selective professional schools in the entire country. If a teacher isn’t performing well, it’s the individual principal’s responsibility to do something about it’.

Teacher rooms are set up all over Finnish schools, where they can lounge about and relax, prepare for the day or just simply socialize

Fourthly, and very importantly, Finland’s education reforms believe in ensuring that ‘basics’ for school educational environments are made available, unlike on creating a stressful environment at school that just frustrates students by pushing them into a race of ‘excellent marks or upping the ante’. Hence, since the 1980’s the following basics are ensured, which include ‘a) Education should be an instrument to balance out social inequality, b) all students receive free school meals, c) ease of access to health care, d) psychological counseling, and e) individualized guidance’.

Other important features of the approach taken by Finland, and which differentiates it from the overall global attitude to education, include

a) providing professional options post-college degree,

b) starting schools at a less stressful time of somewhere between 9:00-9:45 AM,

c) keeping one teacher for a subject, where the same teacher teaching a specific group of students continuously for many grades at school,

d) a limited number of students per class to create better focus,

e) giving less homework, where ‘according to the OECD, students in Finland have the least amount of outside work and homework than any other student in the world. They spend only half an hour a night working on stuff from school’, and

f) ensuring a relaxed environment.

Read more: Pakistani Education System: An Accomplice in Pushing Student to Commit Suicide

In this regard, Mike Colagrossi highlights in the article ‘10 reasons why Finland’s education system is the best’ points out ‘Students usually only have a couple of classes a day. They have several times to eat their food, enjoy recreational activities and generally just relax. Spread throughout the day are 15 to 20-minute intervals where the kids can get up and stretch, grab some fresh air and decompress.

This type of environment is also needed by the teachers. Teacher rooms are set up all over Finnish schools, where they can lounge about and relax, prepare for the day or just simply socialize. Teachers are people too and need to be functional so they can operate at the best of their abilities’.

Dr. Omer Javed is an institutional political economist, who previously worked at the International Monetary Fund, and holds PhD in Economics from the University of Barcelona. He tweets @omerjaved7. This article was first published in Pakistan Today and has been republished with the author’s permission. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.