Sunday, March 9, 2008

Finnish Finishing Schools

In today's Press Enterprise, in the Perspective Section, there was a small article entitled "Learn from Finland's Schools" by Walter Gardner. He taught English for 28 years in L.A.U.S.D. and was a lecturer at the U.C.L.A. Graduate School of Education. I think the article was reprinted from the Providence Journal. He seems to have the credentials to be a bonified critic of our National Educational Policies, i.e. the infamous, "No Child Left Behind". ("no test left behind")

Having recently visited Finland this past summer, the article attracted my attention and hit a responsive chord. (I chose the blue and white "Rubic's Puzzler" above to represent Finland) My wife and I were immediately impressed, in Helsinki, when we got off the boat (cruise liner) with the tidiness and orderliness of the city. There was little or no grafitti, which we had seen in most of the Ports of Call, especially in the Mediterranean. The Baltic Countries were better, probably because so much of the year is dark and cold. We were fortunate to have chosen a bus tour to the countryside not far from the capital. Wow! It was just as awesome and pristine. The country folks we met and the native tour guide were so friendly and open. We visited a typical private home and had "coffee", toured the acreage and peaked in the homemade sauna next to the stream. We saw a field of yellow flowers that looked like mustard but up close we learned it was rape seed. We took pictures around an old maritime church, very austeer with hanging ships and stocks for those who "talked" in God's house. These were very stern and business-like people and yet so nice and friendly...duh, to us tourists.

I digress. The article's main points were along the same line, with these exceptions. Finnish Schools are not run on a "business model" as are ours. They are run and have policies for their on sake and are highly valued and honored as a "goal of life" not a "stepping stone" to "better things" as ours are. They were recently ranked #1 in Science and Math in a Program for International Student Assessment. And yet they don't universally "test" their students for the first nine years. They take a 10% sample in the areas of concern and keep the results secret from the public. Schools are not compared, nor students, and outcomes are used only by the Administrators to help schools and areas in need. Teachers and the profession are revered and honored and they alway have many more than needed applying to get in. Teachers enjoy their "curricular freedom" and have very broad, national guidelines to adhere to. Granted their a much smaller nation and very homogenius in make up, but shouldn't we, at least with a sampling group or two be trying to emulate their success? Their class size is about an average of 30 and their teacher make an average wage compared to their counterparts in Europe.

I know, you're saying they have nothing to do most of the late Fall and Winter but stay indoors and study. (land of the midnight sun etc.) However, some of our most successful and famous athlete are from Finland. We've had Olympics there, and not just winter sports. You might be saying they are so isolated from the rest of the world up there. Well, maybe they used to be, but now with the internet and their active border with Russia, Sweden, Norway and Estonia (via the Baltic) they are right in the thick of what's happening. In the far north, they have the Lapps and the reindeer, a whole isolated culture. They have the aurora borealis and, according to the latest popular movie on the "His Dark Materials Trilogy" - "The Golden Compass" they have exclusive access to "Dust" or some sort of entrance to "other parallel worlds"...yes, fantasy too!

We've recently heard on the news that the Danes are the "happiest" people, as a nation, on Earth. The study goes on to say it is due, in a major way, to their contentment and satisfaction with the "status quo" and Life as it is for them. The Swedes have a similar, "non-motivation" compared to Americans. Where do the Finns fit in here? Are they as curious and up for "life-long learning"? If they are not as striving as us, are they at least as forward-looking and progressive? Maybe it is all in their approach to "testing"- the types and frequencies. We seemed to be obsessed with it and then all the bragging and comparing. Can you imagine a "waiting list" to get into a Kindergarten in Helsinki? Years ago, I even observed one at the demonstration elementary school attached to U.C.L.A's Graduate Ed. program where the author lectured. Maybe that's where he began to see the "Northern Lights". RRR

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