The Finnish miracle

It’s not that Finland doesn’t have its share of Olympic athletes, brilliant architects, and technology moguls, but “Nokia” is all most people can mutter when asked about this small northern nation.

…You may see school as children’s primary job, but don’t downplay the learning they receive from taking care of themselves and contributing to the family.

…(3) Compare and you will despair: Set high expectations for your child but refrain from making discouraging comparisons to other students and schools.

…(4) Study smart, not for eternity: If hours upon hours of homework is getting in the way of your child’s love of learning, talk to the teacher about the problem.

…Finland placed first in science by a whopping 5% margin, second in math (edged out by one point by Chinese Taipei), and third in reading (topped by South Korea).

…Still, just a glance at PISA’s scores year after year prompts the question: How does Finland churn out so many avid learners?

…Never burdened with more than half an hour of homework per night, Finnish kids attend school fewer days than 85% of other developed nations (though still more than Americans), and those school days are typically short by international standards.

…Since PISA began ranking nations and revealing Finland’s special sauce, plane-loads of inquisitive teachers from every corner of the globe have been making pilgrimages to this educational mecca.

…The level of respect accorded to Finnish teachers tends to grab attention, especially in America where teaching is viewed as a “fallback” profession occupied primarily by the lower third of college graduates.

…Truth is, Finland’s preschools offer no academics but plenty of focus on social skills, emotional awareness, and learning to play.

…Americans give lip service to the notion that “all men are created equal,” but our appetite for competition creates an intense focus on ranking low and high performers — whether they’re schools or students.

…At many schools, teachers don’t grade students until the fifth grade, and they aren’t forced to organize curriculum around standardized testing. … After ninth grade, students attend either an academic program (53%) or vocational one (47%) — this flexibility results in a 96% graduation rate, dwarfing the United States’ measly 75%.

…Overall, such attitudes go hand in hand with Finland’s socialist-style egalitarian society, which focuses on meting out fees and services according to need rather than merit.

…Although the Finnish system seems antithetical to South Korea’s (the Asian nation placed second in the 2007 PISA surveys), the two small countries share much in common. … Both achieved independence relatively recently — Finland in 1917, South Korea 1946 — and both are resource-poor nations that decided education was the path out of poverty.

…After all, given our higher immigration rate and wider socioeconomic stratification, our schools tend to become social experiments not simply for learning but also for many other social functions schools aren’t designed to handle.

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