Education: Finnish First

Personally, I find that one of the biggest challenges facing the United States is our complacency.  In recent years, we have undeniably fallen behind the rest of the world in education.  Our debt levels are staggering, our economy is sinking, and we have a President that wages war for now reason.  Still, any criticism seems to be greeted with hostility.  We tend to think that if people don’t support our violent or arrogant ways, they’re against us.  We should, instead, try to learn from the rest of the world.  Most of the planet has learned how to make healthcare fair, yet we continue to make futile attempts to “tweak” a system that is fundamentally flawed and serves only private interests and profiteering.  Education, in my opinion, is a potential solution.

The Wall Street Journal recently posted an interesting article titled What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart?  From the introduction:

High-school students here rarely get more than a half-hour of homework a night. They have no school uniforms, no honor societies, no valedictorians, no tardy bells and no classes for the gifted. There is little standardized testing, few parents agonize over college and kids don’t start school until age 7.

Yet by one international measure, Finnish teenagers are among the smartest in the world. They earned some of the top scores by 15-year-old students who were tested in 57 countries. American teens finished among the world’s C students even as U.S. educators piled on more homework, standards and rules. Finnish youth, like their U.S. counterparts, also waste hours online. They dye their hair, love sarcasm and listen to rap and heavy metal. But by ninth grade they’re way ahead in math, science and reading — on track to keeping Finns among the world’s most productive workers.

And an interesting anecdote / “case study”:

Finnish high-school senior Elina Lamponen saw the differences firsthand. She spent a year at Colon High School in Colon, Mich., where strict rules didn’t translate into tougher lessons or dedicated students, Ms. Lamponen says. She would ask students whether they did their homework. They would reply: ” ‘Nah. So what’d you do last night?'” she recalls. History tests were often multiple choice. The rare essay question, she says, allowed very little space in which to write. In-class projects were largely “glue this to the poster for an hour,” she says. Her Finnish high school forced Ms. Lamponen, a spiky-haired 19-year-old, to repeat the year when she returned.

Lloyd Kirby, superintendent of Colon Community Schools in southern Michigan, says foreign students are told to ask for extra work if they find classes too easy. He says he is trying to make his schools more rigorous by asking parents to demand more from their children.

You can also access a chart that shows the results from the survey.  The U.S. is pretty far down on the list (behind Croatia, Iceland, and many other nations).

Hopefully we can learn something by some of these teaching techniques.  Certainly, no system is perfect, but Americans can benefit tremendously by learning about what does work in other areas of the world.

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