HAVING spent the past few weeks dissecting Finland’s educational system and comparing it to my preferred model, the Sudbury Valley School, has been enlightening for me. I’m not sure if you, my readers, have been similarly enlightened. But they do say that the person who learns most from any lesson is the teacher.
I guess the task of trying to understand the strengths of each model, and then trying to simplify and explain those models in small 500-word chunks (which is my weekly limit for this column) forced me to think of them in ways I had not thought of before.
So what’s my final verdict on the Finland system?
In a previous article, I mentioned seeing it as a halfway point between the strict confines of traditional schooling and the almost total freedom in a Sudbury school. I also mentioned the reason it is so successful in their country is because it moves towards liberation from the rigidity of the old systems.
In fact, an article recently caught my attention that Finland was already considering removing subjects from the curriculum in favor of a more holistic approach:
“Subject-specific lessons – an hour of history in the morning, an hour of geography in the afternoon – are already being phased out for 16-year-olds in the city’s upper schools. They are being replaced by what the Finns call “phenomenon” teaching – or teaching by topic.
For instance, a teenager studying a vocational course might take “cafeteria services” lessons, which would include elements of maths, languages (to help serve foreign customers), writing skills and communication skills... More academic pupils would be taught cross-subject topics such as the European Union - which would merge elements of economics, history (of the countries involved), languages and geography.”
Instead of teaching various trivia per “subject,” they now want students to understand “topics” perhaps like global warming or pollution or recycling. And if it needs a little math or science or history along the way, then that gets taught as well, but it is now relevant because it helps the students understand the topic. It’s not just taught because “hey, you need this in college” or “it’s part of the curriculum” or something like that.
If I were to start a school, I would still go with the Sudbury model. I think it’s the best educational model there is. But for those already running traditional schools, shifting to a Sudbury model might be too radical and would bring a host of other issues that might overwhelm them. The best bet for them is to shift to the Finland model which I think can be done quite easily.
The problem lies not in the “how” as Tim Walker already lays down so many ways schools can start implementing the Finland system. The question is, are the school’s stakeholders -- administrators, teachers, parents, students -- willing to shift their mindset to accept this more liberal and collaborative approach to education?
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