Finnish schools put learning first
Finnish babies take their first naps in government-issued cardboard boxes.
As Helena Lee wrote for the BBC in June 2013, in an article entitled, “Why Finnish babies sleep in cardboard boxes,” the Finnish government gifts each expectant mother a mattress-lined box packed with infant essentials, which Lee called, “a symbol of the idea of equality, and of the importance of children.”
That mindset translates to public education, as well. According to the September 2011 Smithsonian article, “Why Finland’s schools are so successful,” by LynNell Hancock, because Finnish schools are consistently high-quality, “The differences between weakest and strongest students are smallest in the world.”
Before children even outgrow their makeshift bassinets, equal opportunities arise, as parents can enroll their infants in public school with professional teachers and psychologists at the age of zero.
Still, Finns do not expect children to learn to read until they enter first grade at age seven.
Even then, schools emphasize play. In Maija Rintola’s first grade class, featured in the aforementioned Smithsonian article, students get fifteen minutes of outdoor playtime between every single lesson.
Joy is literally written into Finland’s national standards, wrote The Atlantic’s Tim Walker in October 2015 in an article entitled, “The Joyful, Illiterate Kindergartners of Finland.”
He quoted an old Finnish saying: “Those things you learn without joy you will forget easily.”
Teachers can relax and focus on a joyful process because schools are not Racing to the Top.
Students take one standardized test throughout their entire K-12 careers. Yet, despite minimal practice filling in bubbles, Finns Leave No Child Behind, consistently ranking among the world’s smartest on the PISA, an international test.
The system works because Finland trusts its highly-qualified teachers, instead of constantly evaluating them.
Education is as prestigious as medicine or law, requiring a master’s degree, and teacher-education programs admit only the top 10 percent of applicants, according to the Finnish government’s pamphlet, “Finnish Education in a Nutshell.”
Finnish teachers spend less time in the classroom and more time building curriculum than their American peers. They collaborate with psychologists, social workers and other professionals, and often keep the same group of students for several years, building close personal ties.
Finland found its success through collaboration, not competition.
Instead of putting on blinders and focusing on the finish line, America should embrace the Finnish method.