I have developed an obsession with the Finnish education system. It started when I had my son, 5 years ago and has grown stronger throughout the years. It is true that we have options in this country. You can choose to send your child to public school, private school or a charter school. It sounds nice, but the competition and price is fierce with alternative choices. Private schools can cost upwards of 15,000 a year, and good charter schools may have 22 seats open and over 2500 applicants in a lottery system. So, you really don’t have much choice. I’m not sure why the American education system has deteriorated so quickly and in such a huge way. There is too much focus on standardized testing and placement. Kids aren’t really learning though, this is evident by how we rank compared to other countries. It’s a fact. Additionally, the stress of school makes children not life time lovers of learning, but they end up hating school. If you have a child with special needs this decision and stress is even exacerbated. My son is autistic and I hate the thought of putting him in public school. It has nothing to do with the teachers. I think generally most teachers are enthusiastic and are teaching for the right reasons, but the system is failing even them too. They have little to no autonomy on teaching the way they want. We can fix this though, it is a fixable problem. We just need to look at how Finland turned their system around.
Three decades ago the Finnish school system was much like ours. Very regimented and the outcome was poor in comparison to other countries. Finland faced a problem when they had a huge amount of refugees from other countries coming in which created a very distinct difference in socioeconomic statuses. Basically what Finland did was have all schools public and free. That’s the only choice you have. All meals are free and there is no segregation in classrooms. Teachers teach to all children no matter what level of understanding, or special needs they may have. Children get supported with one on one teaching from assistants and/or other teachers. There is no superiority between kids. This created a harmonious and cohesive and supportive relationship among students. The school day is also less structured with many breaks incorporated and lots of time for socializing and building relationships. They also don’t have a focus on homework. The outcomes have been amazing to say the least. Finland is constantly ranked among the top education systems in the world. Teachers are the leading degree that people want to peruse, it is considered an honor to become a school teacher and it is the most respected job. Children are happy and happy to go to school, and they perform. One of the most fascinating features that has come out of this is that socioeconomic mobility has increased on a level that hasn’t been seen anywhere else. A child born into poverty in Finland has a better chance at moving into the middle or upper class system as a result of completing school. This has lead to a decrease in government funded assistance programs and the money saved has been redirected back into the education system and teacher/assistant salaries.
I only wish more people in government would take the time to learn and study the education system in Finland. They have given us a literal blue print on how to correct this problem with the most positive outcomes.
Saunders, D. (2016) Finland’s Social Climbers: How they’re fighting inequality with education, and winning. The Globe and Mail