No Child Is Left Behind

Some students learn faster than others. In some systems, kids who don’t learn things as fast as their peers, are forced to repeat a class. In others, parents who are well off, pay for private teachers and classes. In Finland, however, a lot of emphasis is put on the weaker students. Each kid receives individualized learning plan, shaped by each child’s interests and levels of readiness, which could include the goal of learning how to read.

When a kid does not learn things as fast as his peers, a special education teacher is assigned to help him/her. This not only helps the student in question, but also guarantees peace in classroom for others. So, there’s no need for costly private classes outside school, because the job of the school is to provide education for the child. Therefore, ideally, no one is left alone.

A Comparison

The Stark Difference

In general, classroom instruction in Singapore is highly-scripted and uniform across all levels and subjects. Teaching is coherent, fit-for-purpose and pragmatic.

As such, teaching in Singapore primarily focuses on coverage of the curriculum, the transmission of factual and procedural knowledge, and preparing students for examinations. Singaporean teachers rely heavily on textbooks, worksheets, worked examples and lots of drill and practice. Classroom talk is teacher-dominated and generally avoids extended discussion. And clearly it is highly-effective, helping to generate outstanding results in international assessment.

For example, teachers only make limited use of checking a student’s prior knowledge or communicating learning goals and achievement standards. In addition, while teachers monitor student learning and provide feedback and learning support to students, they largely do so in ways that focus on whether or not students know the right answer, rather than on their level of understanding.

The Finnish Paradox

Finnish education often seems paradoxical to outside observers because it appears to break a lot of the rules we take for granted.

Students in Finland are not taught in terms of traditional subjects but learn to solve real-life problems by drawing on relevant subject areas, helped by teachers who are experts in these areas. There are no tests, certainly a radical departure from subject-based teaching where students can perform by just rote learning. But, learning from real life and no tests, is that all there is to it?

THE PARADOX

Finland has actually become known for a few peculiarities in its education system; aspects that seem rather counter to much of the educational discourse pursued in Asia and America in recent years.

Here are a few components of its current education system structure and teaching styles that have piqued some international interest:

1. Focus

Asia

Education is too much defined by TESTING and data.

Finland

The focus is on learning. No compulsory testing. Feedback and assessment of individual learning process is emphasized. Teachers are trusted to provide assessments they see best benefit their students’ learning. Frequent tests take up teaching time and will prevent students from obtaining the marks they should. Nation-wide mandatory testing is only available for 16-year-olds in Finland.

2. Teacher - Student Relations

Asia

Relations between students and teachers: formal and less friendly. Children are placed under tremendous stress and pressure.

While it is normal for American students to have casual conversations with their teachers on their day or the weather, it is almost unimaginable for Asian students. Due to the hierarchical and formal relationship, the thought of talking to teachers about matters outside school makes Asian students cringe.

Schools have their own hierarchy that doesn’t incorporate casual and friendly relationships between teachers and students. Teacher-student communication in the average Asian school is strictly formal. Teachers respect students and demand respect in return. Openly disagreeing with a teacher isn’t encouraged. As a result, many Western teachers, when teaching in Asia, find the students to be highly respectful.

Finland

Relations between the students and teachers: friendly and relaxed.

In America where there is less social hierarchy than Asia, the relationship between students and teachers is more casual and friendly. American students talk to teachers more freely and teachers respect students’ opinion. On the other hand, there is a clear hierarchy between teachers and students in Asia. Students should always show respect to teachers and avoid disagreeing with them as much as possible.

3. School Hours

Asia

Teachers start as early as 6 am and end 10 to 12 hours later. Teachers work for at least 50 hours a week. Most of the duties involve marking assessments of 36 students in a class. Less involvement with parents.

Finland

Only four to five hours of teaching time. With fewer teaching hours, students are not overwhelmed with class, and teachers do not struggle to build curriculum and assess student progress. More time for teachers to cooperate with parents.

4. School Ranking System

Asia

Rank-screen-based schools. e.g. Raffles High School ranks # 1 in Singapore. Admission into this school is equivalent to winning a lottery.

Finland

No school ranking system. All schools are equal. The best school is the one closest to the house. Teachers are recruited from a single organization.

5. Culture of Extra Tuition

Asia

Culture of extra private tuition exists, putting extra burden on parents and students. No support for slower students.

Finland

No culture of extra private tuition. No child is left behind. The teacher goes around in the classroom, leads to conclusions and advices those who need help. The difference between the weakest and strongest students is the smallest in the world (Proven by PISA scores).

6. Societal Pressure

Asia

Bad score equates with “Future will be gone”.

Finland

No societal pressure to get a good score because there is no score. Teachers are TRUSTED.

7. Recognition of Multiple Intelligences

Asia

Academic intelligence more emphasized: Science, Reading and Mathematics.

Finland

Multiple intelliences recognized. Equity is enhanced when all students have access to high quality arts, music, physical education and other non-academic subjects in the same way that they study reading, mathematics, and science.

8. Play Vs Academic

Asia

More academic-based. Less play-based.

Finland

Play constitutes a significant part of individual growth and learning, even for teenage students. In the short and long term, play benefits cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development…When play is fun and child-directed, children are motivated to engage in opportunities to learn,” the researcher concluded.

9. Measurement of Kids

Young children ARE measured and graded before they enter formal schools.
Finland

Children are NOT graded and ranked for the first six years.

10. Competition vs Collaboration

Asia

Emphasis is on COMPETITION and producing “top” students. “Top” students are defined as the ones achieving high test scores.

Asian countries are built upon and reliant on a system of meritocracy that fuels competition. The priority for these countries, where opportunities and resources are limited, is economic growth. For economic growth to happen, we need to create skilled workforce fast. We neither have a rich history nor the luxury to dwell on matters like art, music and literature. Our education system thus, are more geared towards economic practicality, efficiency and effectiveness. In order for maximum efficiency to happen, we use rote learning in classroom which kinda stifles a lot of our kids’ creative juices.

Finland

Emphasis is on COOPERATIVE-LEARNING to boost solidarity and socialization skills.25 Students are expected to work collaboratively in teams on projects, and there is a substantial focus on projects that cut across traditional subject or disciplinary lines Competition isn’t as important as cooperation

Finland has figured out that competition between schools doesn’t get kids as far as cooperation between those schools.

11. Homework

Asia

15-year-olds devote 9.4 hours weekly to homeworks (global average is 5 hours). Singaporeans rank third globally in time spent on homeworks. This explains its rank #3 on the PISA scores.

Finland

No more than 3 hours of homework a week. But it does not mean children “learn any less”. Schooldays are also shorter in Finland than in the United States, and primary schools keep the homework load to a minimum so students have time for their own hobbies and friends when school is over.Parents assume teachers have covered most of what they need in the confines of the school day, and schools assume the same. Extra work is often deemed unnecessary by everyone involved

Education system success is built on the idea of less can be more

Time spent at home is reserved for family, where the only lessons kids learn are about life.

12. Class Size

Asia

Teachers are overburdened with 36 students in a class.

Finland

Small class size of 20 students (below the world average of 24)

13. Student-Centric Classes

Asia

Students are expected to learn how to read in pre-school just because they are deemed old enough.

Finland

Student-centric and interest-based learning. If the child is ready, willing and interested, teachers will help the child learn. Research proves that rushed learning doesn’t yield long-term benefits but may cause long-term adverse psychological effects. kids ought to stay kids for as long as possible. It’s not their job to grow up quickly and become memorisers and test-takers.

14. Formal Schooling Age

Asia

Traditional wisdom has taught parents to send children to formal schools two years ahead of Finland.

Finland

Children don’t begin formal schooling until age 7.

15. Method of Correction

Asia

Students are demotivated when punished and caned.

Finland

Students are encouraged.

16. Over-reliance on Texbooks

Asia

Teachers rely heavily on textbooks and worksheets. Classroom talk is teacher-dominated and generally avoids extended discussion.

Singapore’s teaching regime is one primarily focused on the transmission of conventional curriculum knowledge and examination performance. And clearly it is highly-effective, helping to generate outstanding results in international assessment.

Finland

Pioneering innovative learning methodologies. e.g. Phenomenon-based learning introduced in 2016.

Teachers employ “high leverage” or unusually effective teaching practices that contemporary research regards as critical to the development of conceptual understanding and “learning how to learn”.

17. Period of Teacher Rotation

Asia

Teachers are rotated on a yearly cycle.

Finland

Students have the same teacher for as long as 5 consecutive years. The teacher supports them emotionally and provides a sense of security.

18. Perception of the Teaching Profession

Asia

Teaching is regarded as stepping stone. “If you can’t do, teach!” mentality.

Finland

Usually teaching is the chosen career. Teachers are highly respected by the society, on par with lawyers and doctors, even though the salaries in those professions are not on the same level.

19. Various Methods of Assesment

Asia

Students are assessed only by teachers.

Finland

Students are also assessed themselves and by peers.

20. Treatment and Classification of Students

Asia

Mandatory testing that determines whether a child moves on to the next grade or which “stream” (arts or science at age 14) a student goes into. Very stressful.

Slow students do not get to sit in the same class with the “Top” students.

Finland

Finland focuses on fairness and equality among students. Replicating the Singaporean education system and placing students of different abilities into different streams and classes is ILLEGAL in Finland.

All children, regardless of capabilities, are taught in the same classroom.

21. Teachers' Freedom to Experiment and Innovate

Asia

Rigid and excessive education regulations. No freedom to innovate and experiment. Dictated and dominated by government bureaucrats. In general, classroom instruction in Singapore is highly-scripted and uniform across all levels and subjects. Teaching is coherent, fit-for-purpose and pragmatic.

Finland

The education regulations and curriculum are loose and non-prescriptive; teachers are free to decide how to meet students’ needs.

22. Importance of Plays and Breaks

Asia

Breaks and play are considered LESS IMPORTANT.

teaching regime is one primarily focused on the transmission of conventional curriculum knowledge and examination performance. And clearly it is highly-effective, helping to generate outstanding results in international assessment. emphasising rote memorisation and fostering a rigid, unquestioning society.

Finland

Breaks and play are deemed SACRED.

Every class must be followed by a 15-minute recess break so children can spend time outside on their own activities.

Finally, play constitutes a significant part of individual growth and learning in Finnish schools.

23. Reliance on Teachers

Asia

Students are dependent on the teachers to make study plans and assesments for them.

Finland

Students are expected to take an active role in designing their own learning activities ? Hietava’s latest innovations are with pilot-testing “self-assessments,” where his students write daily narratives on their learning and progress; and with “peer assessments,” a striking concept where children are carefully guided to offer positive feedback and constructive suggestions to each other.

Inside Finnish classrooms, I noticed that many teachers seemed comfortable providing students with ample freedom, such as assigning open-ended projects. Not only did this practice seem to encourage creativity, but it also nudged students to develop stronger critical thinking skills.

24. Teacher-Centered VS Student-Centered Class

Asia

Education is teacher-driven – the teacher teaches and children listen.

In a typical Asian classroom, you will find:

The teacher at the center

Rote learning (memorization of facts and sequences);

‘Drill to thrill’ on formal, standardized assessments

Minimal student-driven discussions or exercises

With a healthy dose of discipline, structure and respect

Teachers are revered. Students are dedicated. Home is involved. The result is high levels of knowledge acquisition; superior performance on international comparative exams such as PISA; high achievement in STEM core subject areas (science, technology, engineering, and math). They are human computers, capable of reciting any fact, figure, or formulae at any moment. Very high intellectual capacity.

Finland

The teacher is more of a facilitator (at least in the more effective environments), as well as a full-time manager.

The students are more empowered in their own learning processes.

They are learning concepts (some), along with context (some).

They are challenged to inquire, debate, deliberate, to ‘work it out.’

They are given freedoms, liberties not typically found in Asian education settings.

The teacher is not revered — not even respected. The students are largely disengaged, disinterested, and undisciplined. Home is not playing the partner, but rather views education as something that happens almost entirely at school (where we evolved this fabrication would require another blog post). The result is lower levels of knowledge acquisition and basic skills development; inferior performance on standardized tests; but with far greater abilities in areas of critical thinking, problem solving, communicating, collaborating and creating. In other words, much higher emotional intelligence — the ability to relate to one another, create with one another.

25. Class Climate

Asia

Throughout much of Asia, education is seen as the only path to success. Parental demands, fear of failure, competition and pride are fueling Asia’s academic ascension. Simply put, children in Asia study with a purpose. “There is a mentality of a first tier. You have to be first-rate, otherwise you may not be able to survive.” the typical Asian student: committed, diligent, competitive, passionate, focused and ambitious. “They don’t have the joy for learning,” Chye said. “After a while, they may burn out.”

participation

There are of course teachers in Asian schools who encourage discussions among students, but most do not put much emphasis on participation. Even if the teacher asks a question, students shy away from answering them as they are embarrassed of speaking in front of their classmates or afraid of getting the answer wrong.

Finland

In class, children are allowed to have fun, giggle and daydream from time to time. Finns put into practice the cultural mantras I heard over and over: “Let children be children”, “The work of a child is to play”, and “Children learn best through play”.

In America, every student is encouraged to openly discuss the material with classmates and the teacher, as participation is an important element of the American education system. On the other hand, courses in most Asian education systems are heavily lecture-based, meaning that teachers unilaterally transfer information to students. While the teacher is talking, students are taking meticulous notes, trying to copy as much as they can.

The emotional climate of the typical classroom is warm, safe, respectful and highly supportive. There are no scripted lessons and no quasi-martial requirements to walk in straight lines or sit up straighT.

In America, every student is encouraged to openly discuss the material with classmates and the teacher, as participation is an important element of the American education system.

On the other hand, courses in most Asian education systems are heavily lecture-based, meaning that teachers unilaterally transfer information to students. While the teacher is talking, students are taking meticulous notes, trying to write as much down as they can. Unlike the West, where self-expression, creative exploration, art and philosophy are encouraged and greatly appreciated,

26. How Making Mistakes is Regarded

Asia

In Asia, people focused too much on getting the right answers, and were accordingly fearful of receiving punishment for mistakes. Many students don’t have the courage to pursue their dreams, because leaving their community means facing criticism.

Finland

On the contrary, in the Finland., teachers encourage students to make mistakes, and no one judges you for deciding to do something different.

Ultimately, I think the purpose of education is not just to inform, but to cultivate a desire to learn. In that regard, both the American and Asian systems of education have their benefits.

27. Values Toward Individuality and Audacity

Asia

In Asia, a rigorous work ethic, loyalty to community and global sense of perspective serve students well, but a lack of creativity and a discouragement of individuality hamstring student ambition.

Finland

In America, the system values diversity, encourages skepticism and promotes audacity, which creates a confident, if somewhat rosy-eyed workforce.

Equal Treatment of All Intelligences

Finally, Finland has a balanced curriculum that is based on a realisation that multiple intelligences exist in every classroom. Equity is enhanced when all students have access to high quality arts, music, physical education and other non-academic subjects in the same way that they study reading, mathematics, science and other academic subjects.

On the basis of efficiency, inputs and outputs, and impact on childhood, the Finnish-style model can easily be seen as the world’s best.

How Finland Became The Best?