The amazing primary school system that breaks every rule in the book
The public schools in this country also give as many as four 15-minute free-play outdoor breaks a day between classes, no matter what the weather is like!
If you are asked to think of countries known for their cutting-edge primary school education techniques, Finland is perhaps not a country that would cross your mind.
But if you were to sit in Jussi Hietava’s fourth-grade math class in remote, rural Finland, you just might be surprised.
An article by William Doyle — a Fulbright scholar and university lecturer — in the Hechinger Report, describes just how advanced Finland’s school system is, presenting a few lessons in education that many countries could probably emulate to good effect.
Doyle’s description is first-hand, as his own child is a second grader in the school that Hietava teaches in.
A tale of ‘personalised learning’
You certainly won’t observe stress, standardised testing, control, competition and loosened teacher qualifications in Hietava’s classroom, or any other Finnish public school for that matter.
What you will notice is collaboration, warmth, and “highly professionalized, teacher-led encouragement and assessment.”
In other words, what the students are enjoying and benefiting from here is the cutting-edge concept of “personalized learning.”
This method minimises the use of electronic devices (even though the school is equipped with the latest technology) and instead uses “countless face-to-face and over-the-shoulder interactions with schoolchildren”.
This is backed by the belief that screens can only provide a simulation of real human-to-human interaction, the kind of interaction which plays a pivotal role in the Finnish primary school education system.
Here’s what you will observe in a Finnish primary school classroom
1. Kids being kids
You’ll see children wriggling, giggling and slouching from time to time, because that’s what kids do wherever in the world they are.
2. Professional and innovative teachers
Finnish primary school teachers are not bound by excessive rules, scripts or bureaucracy. Instead, they are trusted professionals who have the freedom to experiment and innovate with new approaches and methods in order to improve kids’ learning.
For example, according to Doyle, Hietava’s latest innovations are with pilot-testing “self-assessments.”
Here, his students write narratives on their learning and progress every day. “Peer assessments” are also encouraged, where kids are carefully instructed on how to give each other positive feedback and constructive suggestions.
3. Play-based learning
Kids in Finnish public schools enjoy learning through play-based preschools and kindergartens, training in second languages, arts, crafts, music, physical education and ethics along with basic subject instruction in math, language and science.
They are also give as many as four 15-minute free-play outdoor breaks a day between classes, no matter what the weather is like.
Doyle comments that “educators and parents here believe that these breaks are a powerful engine of learning that improves almost all the ‘metrics’ that matter most for children in school – executive function, concentration and cognitive focus, behavior, well-being, attendance, physical health, and yes, test scores, too.”
4. A lighter homework load
While the homework load for Finnish schoolchildren varies by teacher, in general it is lighter than that given in most other developed nations.
This is based on research that finds very little academic benefit in any more than small amounts of homework for kids until high school.
Doyle’s final observations?
While he points out the the Finnish education system is certainly not 100% perfect, Doyle still feels that the primary school system seems to “the most child-centered, most evidence-based, and most effective primary school system in the world.”
He points out that this primary school system is based on “a national love of childhood, a profound respect for teachers as trusted professionals, and a deep understanding of how children learn best.”
The Finnish primary school education system certainly provides important lessons that no book can teach, for many countries around the world.
Could Singapore’s primary school system learn a few lessons from the Finnish primary school education system? Share your thoughts on this article in a comment below.