The U.N.’s Human Development Index lists Finland as having the best educational system in the whole world. It has succeeded in implementing educational excellence with innovative methods and genuine reforms. It is time we apply some of its best practices and discuss some of its methods that might be applied to upgrade our failing educational system.
Finland bases its educational policies on quality, efficiency, equality and internationalization. The Finnish Ministry of Education attributes the success of its education system to highly competent teachers and the autonomy given to schools.
Principals, superintendents and policymakers are chosen from inside the education system and not from the outside.
Today the standards of teachers in Finland remain high due to the strict implementation of rigorous standards for teacher certification. All primary and secondary school teachers are required to obtain a Master’s degree to qualify, and entrance to university programs is highly competitive – for some, there are 10 applicants for every available place.
Finland invests in a lot of additional teacher training even after employment. A common practice in Finnish schools is the observation and debriefing process. New inexperienced teachers in first grade classrooms are monitored by several adults who stand in the back of the room observing. They include a master teacher, a specialty subject teacher from the teacher’s university, an advisor from the university, and a couple of other student teachers. After the class, they meet with the teacher for a debriefing and offer advice and guidance. This is a common practice in all schools.
The respect accorded to the teaching profession and the high salaries lead to higher performance and larger numbers applying for positions. Teachers are selected from the top 10 percent of graduates and they are given the same status as doctors and lawyers.
Finland bases its educational policies on quality, efficiency, equality and internationalizationSamar Fatany
Finnish schools give their highly competent teachers a lot of trust. Teachers only spend four hours a day in the classroom, and take two hours a week for “professional development’. They are allowed to design their own courses and choose their own textbooks. Although they use a national curriculum as a guide, they are given a great deal of autonomy in choosing the methods of instruction and are encouraged to share ideas and best practices with colleagues.
The Finnish educational model is also based on a balanced curriculum, smaller classes, shorter school days and less homework, to leave room for extracurricular activities.
A focus on talent
Much attention is focused on talent. Classes nurture critical cooperative skills and cultivate respect for artisans. Students in grades one through nine spend four to eleven hours each week taking classes in art, music, cooking, carpentry, metalwork and textiles. Sports, handcrafts or school clubs are offered during the middle of the school day, rather than just in the morning or after school. Students do not get a heavy load of homework in primary schools. This way they can have time for their hobbies and friends after school.
Finnish schools have succeeded in fostering the individual potential of every child. The focus is on creating people who have good skills and strong know-how. Classes are small in size and struggling students are given more support to ensure that everyone’s skills and potential are developed. Nearly 30 percent of children receive some kind of special help during their first nine years of school.
Learning skills of children are developed through play and more attention is given to the individual growth of each child. Every class must be followed by a 15-minute break to allow children to have their own activities outside the classroom. Breaks are given in the middle of the school day for elementary school students.
The people of Finland believe that schools should incorporate the meaning of life in education; schools teach community skills and develop self-esteem in students who are taught to be sensitive to people’s feelings and to care for others at an early age.
Finland’s school system is also unique because it has rejected customary standardized tests. The Finnish National Board of Education has concluded that such tests consume too much time, cost too much to construct and grade and cause unnecessary stress. All Finnish students take standardized exams only as high school seniors if they wish to go to university.
The challenges involved in reforming our educational system are many and there are lessons to be learnt from Finland’s policy for achieving excellence in education. Their innovative strategies can help us upgrade our failing schools. Unfortunately, an imbalanced curriculum has deprived our students of quality education and an opportunity to enhance their careers. Also, the shortage of qualified teachers has kept the standard of education low and the rate of unemployment high. We cannot afford to produce another generation of idle and unproductive youth. We need to implement more rigorous standards for teacher certification.
Another major obstacle is the large number of students in every classroom. Saudi educators complain that they find it difficult to teach and control large classrooms. Finnish experts stress the need for smaller classes for better results. Maybe we should consider placing three teachers instead of one in each classroom until we build new facilities to accommodate the growing number of students in our schools.
The list of challenges is long. Policy makers are called upon to give them serious attention and to reassess our academic strategies in order to promote quality, efficiency, equality and the internationalization of our educational system, just like the Finns.
It is clear that more needs to be done to promote 21st century graduates who are qualified to serve our market needs.
This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on May 9, 2015.
Samar Fatany is a Chief Broadcaster in the English section at Jeddah Broadcasting Station. Over the past 28 years, she has introduced many news, cultural, and religious programs and has conducted several interviews with official delegations and prominent political personalities visiting the kingdom. Fatany has made significant contributions in the fields of public relations and social awareness in Saudi Arabia and has been involved in activities aiming at fighting extremism and enhancing women’s role in serving society. She has published three books: “Saudi Perceptions & Western Misconceptions,” “Saudi Women towards a new era” and “Saudi Challenges & Reforms.”