Finland, one of the educational hotspots of the world, is committed to a revolution in education: by 2020, they will move on to a topic type of education. In other words, you won’t be learning about math, physics and chemistry, but you’ll be learning specific topics – eliminating the “what’s the point of learning this?” type of questions.
For at least decades, Finland has been synonymous with high quality education. Education in Finland is free at all levels, from kindergarten to graduate, just like in the other northern countries (and soon, Germany). Also, in all the world, only countries like Singapore (and sometimes, China) compare with Finland in the influential Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings. So free and high performing student-focused education, maintaining a high standard of ethic and educational democracy? What’s not to like?
As a matter of fact, politicians, education experts and professors have started to visit Finland, almost like a pilgrimage to see what they are doing and how this can be also applied in other parts of the world. But a good recipe can also be improved – and that’s what Finland is going for right now. They will move from a subject type of learning, to what they call “phenomenon” teaching – or teaching by topic.
This means that you won’t have subjects like History, Geography, Math and so on – instead, you’ll be learning actual topics. For example, instead of learning one class of history, you’ll be learning in one class about the European Union, with all the historical, social and economic aspects, and instead of learning math, you’ll be learning how to calculate your taxes. There will also be vocational topics “cafeteria services” lessons, which would include elements of maths, languages (to help serve foreign customers), writing skills and communication skills. Depending on the age and proficiency of the students, they will be taught matters with different levels of complexity.
Pasi Silander, Helsinki’s development manager, explained:
“What we need now is a different kind of education to prepare people for working life. Young people use quite advanced computers. In the past the banks had lots of bank clerks totting up figures but now that has totally changed. We therefore have to make the changes in education that are necessary for industry and modern society.”
Subject specific lessons are already phased out for students aged 16 and above, and with good results – so the Finns seem prepared to take things to the next level and create a revolution in education. Especially in modern times, with the huge advancements in the field of computing and the internet, having “new” skills is a must for education. I’m gladd someone is taking steps in the right direction.
“Young people use quite advanced computers. In the past the banks had lots of bank clerks totting up figures but now that has totally changed. We therefore have to make the changes in education that are necessary for industry and modern society.”
The new system will also feature several other changes meant to encourage communication and interactivity in the classroom. For example, instead of staying passively in their benches listening to the teachers, students will now often work in smaller groups, collaborating on projects rather than just be assigned homework and classwork.
We really need a rethinking of education and a redesigning of our system, so it prepares our children for the future with the skills that are needed for today and tomorrow,” Marjo Kyllonen, Helsinki’s education manager, who is leading the change, told The Independent. “There are schools that are teaching in the old fashioned way which was of benefit in the beginnings of the 1900s – but the needs are not the same and we need something fit for the 21st century,” she added.
I feel that this point cannot be emphasized enough. So many schools in the developed world are still trapped in the same way of thinking people had 100 years ago – for crying out loud, some groups in America want to remove climate change from the text books! If we really want future generations to be prepared for the needs of our future society, we have to start paving the way.
Of course, such a change won’t come easy – but 70 per cent of Helsinki’s highschool teachers have already been successfully trained in this new approach, and similar programs are rolling out throughout the country. Naturally, not everybody agrees with this change, but proponents of this new systems argue that this will encourage professors from various areas to also collaborate better and come up with interesting and useful topics to study; there will also be a pay incentive. So far, the early data seems to show that students are enjoying this approach more and performing better. As if this weren’t enough, the pre-school sector is enjoying its own revolution – the Playful Learning Centre, which is engaged in discussions with the computer games industry about how it could help introduce a more “playful” learning approach to younger children.
“We would like to make Finland the leading country in terms of playful solutions to children’s learning,” said Olavi Mentanen, director of the PLC project.
So what do you think about this change, and Finland’s approach to education?