Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Finland's Model: Do the Opposite of What We're Doing

There has been a lot of talk about using Finland's education system as a model for our own. Their highly successful and much lauded system is the result of carefully planned and executed reform efforts in the '70s and '80s. This brief Atlantic article by Anu Partanen highlights the key principles that Finland decided were important, as detailed in the writing, speeches, and other tireless communication efforts of Pasi Sahlberg, the director of the Finnish Ministry of Education's Center for International Mobility. It's a pretty telling series of things, because they are all things the U.S. summarily ignores or outrightly rejects. To whit:

  • The driving force behind Finland's reform efforts was, and remains, equity, not excellence. Therefore all schools from kindergarten through university are public, and all children receive health care and adequate nutritious meals.
  • Teachers are embued with responsibility, not held to accountability. Correspondingly, teachers are highly educated and highly trained. teaching is a prestigious and well-paid profession, and teachers assess students when and how they see fit. They also have ample time to collaborate with their colleagues, as described (along with a ton of other well-researched information) here.

Partanen summarizes how others have addressed concerns about the difference in our country's size--we have local and state school control, not federal--and in demographics--not as large a difference as one might think. As an aside, while the local-control thing is true, I don't think it is fruitful to minimize our
astounding ethnic and cultural diversity, nor our country's unique and powerful history of multiculturalism and immigration. That said, though, I feel we face a far greater challenge to developing and executing Finnish-inspired change: our insane attachment to signposts of individuality, to the point that we fear baseline health and nutrition provisions and prefer to cultivate our own ignorance rather than accept others' knowledge.

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