Does the Finnish education system have it right? Part 1

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The recent less-than-flattering comparisons in the press between the Singapore and Finnish educations systems have left many parents wondering if we’re getting a raw deal here.

Our children suffer through a high pressure school system, we pay a small fortune in tuition fees to supplement school learning and we all slog through multiple streaming exams. And at the end of the day, the Finns (their kids just play at school till they’re six) end up better educated.  How did Finnish education become better than ours?

Finnish education

The Finnish education system is less pressurizing than Singapore’s, yet their students do better.

We care because Finland’s new-found education superstar status comes from a test the OECD runs every three years called the PISA Survey. 15 year olds are tested on their Reading, Math and Sciences — not subjects that creative play is supposed to help you score in.

RELATED: Education in Singapore

These are areas that “should” be dominated by Asian style learning and for the most part they are. China is the top scorer, along with Singapore and South Korea. But how did the Finns, whose children do very little homework, get into our game without the hard slog? What’s so special about Finnish education?

Finnish education system

No standardised testing

Perhaps Finland’s education system offers a better way of achieving superior academic results? They don’t believe in standardized testing with the exception of their National Matriculation Exam (very roughly like our “O” Levels). Teachers are trained to assess students with their own tests. Report cards are based on individualised grading. No T-score or bell curve. How could such a system ever work? But work it does.

They don’t compete

The Finns have a fundamental difference in attitude to Asians. They don’t compare or compete. Samuli Paronen, a Finnish writer says: “Real winners do not compete.” How does one gauge excellence without competition? By believing in individual excellence and by only ever competing against yourself. An alien concept in many Asian societies.

Finnish education

How do Finnish teachers’ teaching methods differ from Singapore’s?

Trust in teachers

Finnish children learn at the pace that they learn and their teachers are trusted to adapt. Teachers are highly trained (a Masters degree is required and teacher training is rigorous), class sizes are small and the teaching profession is well-respected. The Finnish education method is to train teachers and to trust them to teach. And look where they are today. It’s still no education Utopia though as Finnish parents are not universally pleased with their system. But as a method of approaching education through empowering teachers, it has a lot to offer.

Equal schools

Finnish education begins with the goal of giving every child the same opportunities to learn, irrespective of their background, wealth or location. Instead of trying to produce stars, they use education as the great social equalizer. It’s an enlightened approach. Are we ready for this here in Singapore?

Are we ready to give up the chase for the best school, best score, best student, best university  all in favour of not leaving anyone behind? The US has some of the best schools in the world, if you can afford it. And because one has to pay for the best schools, a staggeringly large number of American children are left behind in their education system. Education has become a great divider, not an equalizer there. The question for us in Singapore is: Do we prepare every Singaporean child for the new economy or only those who can afford the extra tuition?

RELATED: Misconceptions about education

Watch this video on Finnish education system.

Read the next part of this article to find out what Singapore can learn from the Finnish education system.

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