“School is about finding your happiness.”

(Updated 2019 post)

The title of this post is a claim made by a Finnish educator in Michael Moore’s Where to Invade Next. Before continuing to the body of the post, please watch the 9-minute clip accessed by this link: School is about finding your happiness.

To me, the most interesting point presented in the video clip is this:

It’s not that we have figured out something that nobody else has done in Education. That’s wrong. Many of these things that have made Finland perform well in Education are American ideas.

A few important clarifications:

All Finnish kids are educated together in comprehensive schools from grades 1 to 9, and it is here that the principles espoused by the Finnish educators in the film clip are applied; the comprehensive school graduates are the ones who have been performing well on the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment).

I did encounter a view, contrary to the assertions in the film, that there are schools that do assign homework, and there are “private schools” in Helsinki, although they sound more like selective Charters with a small tuition that are required to abide with all national educational requirements; the majority of these schools’ funding comes from government. And like many European school systems, there IS high stakes testing with far higher consequences than anything in the US: results determine a student’s future educational opportunities.

While comprehensive school teachers may not be teaching to a test, according to an American blogger teaching in Finland, secondary school teachers do teach to tests, the most demanding of which is the National Matriculation Examination. It is comprised of from four to ten exams, each of which comes with a six-hour time frame due to the volume of writing required. Finnish kids do not take multiple choice tests because such tests do not accurately test mastery of important outcomes; hence, the large volume of writing required by National Matriculation Examinations.

Check out these links for more details about Finish educaton: Education in Finland: more education for more peopleWhy are Finland’s schools successful?, and How Finland built the world’s most admired education system.

In the face of all this acclaim, apparently things have been changing according to this Washington Post piece: Finland’s schools were once the envy of the world. Now, they’re slipping. While slipping, Finland’s results are still well ahead of the US, which the WAPO article notes “has never been in the top 10 in any of the subject categories. In 2015, U.S. students ranked 40th in math, 25th in science and 24th in reading.” The WAPO reporter used a Q&A with Pasi Sahlberg, a noted Finnish educator, to examine possible reasons for the slip.

Salhberg noted that Finland is the only country where girls significantly outperform boys in reading, math and science, which he claimed is related to “the diminished role of reading for pleasure among boys…(accelerated by) the appearance of handheld technologies such as smartphones among school-aged children.”

Further, “rapidly increased ‘screen time’ with media is often eating the time spent with books and reading in general … (with) … three principal consequences: shallower information processing, increased distractibility, and altered self-control mechanisms … (which makes) concentration on complex conceptual issues, like those in mathematics and science, more difficult.”

In addition, Sahlberg stated, “Finland has been living with a very serious economic downturn since 2008 … The most harmful consequence of these fiscal constraints is declining number of support staff, classroom assistants, and special education personnel.”

Sahlberg’s view regarding how Finland is likely to address identified concerns appears to be aligned with the content of Moore’s film: “The Finnish way of thinking is that the best way to address insufficient educational performance is not to raise standards or increase instruction time (or homework) but make school a more interesting and enjoyable place for all. Raising student motivation to study and well-being in school in general are among the main goals of current education policy in Finland.”

Sahlberg believes that “In the coming years, foreign observers will see more integrated interdisciplinary teaching and learning in Finnish schools that actually will decrease instruction time in mathematics and science. They will also witness more emphasis on arts and physical activity in all schools.”

And finally, Sahlberg believes that “what Finland should learn from these recent (PISA) results is that reducing education spending always comes with consequences. It is very shortsighted to think that high educational performance and continuing betterment of schools would be possible when resources are shrinking.”

Shrinking resources is something policy-makers should consider now that American Public Education is under a serious attack far more dire than the “act of war” assertion made in A Nation at Risk. Given our failures, is it not ironic that American Education has been the source of ideas—like interdisciplinary teaching and an emphasis on the arts and physical activity—that at least one other country believes has and will improve the educational achievement of all its students?

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(The featured image is used under license from Pixabay; copyright infringement is not intended nor is there an intent on the part of the blogger to monetize its use.)