Tag Archives: Teacher

Children are Finland’s Most Precious Resource: Parenting Without Borders, Part 8

In the Introduction, we broached the idea that the way other cultures parent might be more “right” than the way that the culture in North America parents, as discussed in the book Parenting Without Borders. In Part 1, we looked at some of the different cultural thoughts around sleep. There was also that stunning example of how it’s normal for babies in Scandinavia to be found taking a nap on the terrace in the dead of winter! In Part 2, we explored “stuff” and how having more of it might not be best for our children. In Part 3, we looked at how different cultures relate to food in the context of parenting. In Part 4, we looked at how saying “good job” to our little ones might not have the effect we think it does. In Part 5, we talked about the virtues of allowing our little ones the space to work through problems on their own.In Part 6, we examined the importance of unstructured “play.” In Part 7,  we explored what education is like in East Asia and in Part 8, we’ll look at education in Finland.

There are many fascinating aspects to education in Finland, especially because they’re so counter to many of the ways we understand education in North America (and East Asia, given the last post in this series, for that matter). Here’s the underlying ideal that guides Finnish education [Emphasis Added]:

Children learn best when they are motivated and when they’re given tools to make responsible and effective choices. Teachers and other adults strive to help kids reach their potential by connecting with them, respecting them, and creating optimal conditions for learning. In Finland, children are regarded as the nation’s most precious resource.

In reading the first part of the quote, it might seem strange that other adults also strive to help kids learn, but as the quote closes, it makes sense. If children are the most important aspect to a country, of course all adults would make strive to foster the development of children.

If you’ve ever come across one of those articles that ranks the education systems of different countries, you should be quite familiar with some of the unorthodox methods used in the Finnish education system. For instance: children don’t begin “academic” education until they’re seven years old; every hour is split into 45 minutes for ‘education’ and 15 minutes for recess (even into high school!); Finnish children spend approximately 300 hours (or ~6 weeks) fewer in elementary school than their counterparts in the USA; and they often have no homework. Oh, don’t forget that there aren’t any specialized programs for gifted children, there aren’t private schools, and there aren’t any high-stakes standardized tests (like the gaokao).

When put in that context, it seems extraordinary that Finns consistently are at the top of global rankings in education. It’s not surprising then, that Gross-Loh dedicated an entire chapter to exploring some of the underlying reasons why this might be the case. She found three “secrets”:

  1. Cultivating High-Quality Teaching
  2. A Variety of Classes Enhance Creativity
  3. The Importance of Setting Up Every Kid for Success

Let’s start with the first one — high-quality teaching. Right off the bat, it’s not easy to become a teacher in Finland. Since the 1970s, all teachers were required to have a Master’s degree. Since the 1970s! If we try and equate that to today’s society, that would be like requiring a PhD. Can you imagine if every teacher in the US had to obtain a PhD before being able to teach (even primary school students!)?

If that analogy isn’t enough, how about this one: “Teachers in Finland are as highly respected as medical doctors in the United States.”

Naturally, it follows that Finland invests quite a bit in their teachers — $30 million a year on professional development. Teachers are continually renewing themselves, which kind of reminds me of the self-cultivation piece of East Asian education.

In the second “secret,” there were two pieces that I found particularly important — Finns want their children to be good at learning how to learn and the emphasis on creative study. In high schools, all Finns must take: Finnish, Swedish, English, math, chemistry, physics, biology, geography, history, social studies, handcrafts, arts, home economics, music, and sports. Not only are Finns educated in science (and foreign languages — sheesh, three languages!?), but there is time and emphasis placed on creative subjects. These topics are emphasized just as much as the sciences because, “teachers believe that creative study transfers to a child’s performance in all subjects.”

The opening sentence from the last ‘secret’: “We can’t afford to waste a brain.” Further to that, in Finland, ‘school readiness’ means that the school is ready to receive and meet the needs of the children (rather than the kids needing to be “ready for school”).

The Finnish way of setting up kids for success means trusting them with many responsibilities even in primary school, so they feel a sense of ownership over their own lives and their education.

An excellent example of this, Gross-Loh has a conversation with a student in Grade 5 who is well-versed in matters of the school budget! If I think back to when I was in Grade 5, I don’t even think I knew what a “budget” was, much less that my school had one, and that I could know about its inner workings.

Two last things I wanted to mention —

Near the end of the chapter, there’s a quote that reminded of an image I’ve seen floating around social media: “Instead of emphasizing global competitiveness, or high individual achievement, the concept guiding almost every educational reform and decision [in Finland] has been equity.”

And finally, in case you want to dismiss the achievements in Finland as being impossible to port to the USA, consider that Finland has the same population as the state of Minnesota.

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There are More Security Guards in the US than There are High School Teachers

At first blush, the idea that there are more security guards in a country than high school teachers doesn’t seem right. It’s one of those things that, when you hear it, makes you question the values of the country. After seeing the headline, I thought I’d follow the links to see just where the sources came from. It turns out that the source is an academic who, thankfully, included a list of sources.

It seems to me that this is perfectly in keeping with the theme of my last post. For a country that’s national defense headquarters spends more money war than all 50 states combined spend on health, education, welfare, and safety, why wouldn’t you also expect there to be a plethora of security guards employed in the country? I suppose the hope would be that there wouldn’t be more of them than high school teachers.

Given the decline of US education, I wonder if the US might be better served if they took even one-quarter of the security guards and turned them into teachers. Of course, simply taking away their flashlights and guns and giving them chalk won’t necessarily solve the problem of the US falling behind in education across the world, but with some effective training, they could turn out to be pretty good teachers.

I suppose there’s more to it than that, though. Simply shifting one segment of the workforce to another won’t necessarily change the tacit values of the culture that led to this kind of development. That is, as I mentioned earlier regarding the budget of the Pentagon, it might just be that at America’s heart, this is what they value — defense over education. I wonder if there’s a poll out there juxtaposing the two. That is, if citizens were forced to choose where they’d rather have their dollars spent, would the rather it spent on education or defense? Even asking a question like that is difficult given the exposure to the media. In a vacuum, folks might prefer education to defense, but because of the news reports they’ve seen/heard over the last few decades, they’d put their dollar into the defense bucket. One could then argue that nothing really occurs in a vacuum, so that it probably proves nothing. Nonetheless, I’d be interested to see just how many Americans would choose defense over education.

I should clarify that I’m not saying that the US should spend nothing on defense, but when you get a certain point, the marginal utility of a dollar spent on education has to be higher than the the marginal utility of a dollar spent on defense.

The Flipped Classroom: Homework in Class and Lecture at Home

A couple of weeks ago, there was an article in The Atlantic that not only discussed the idea of a “flipped” classroom (homework in class, lecture at home), but actually had data on this idea. Before we get into the data, I wanted to talk a little bit about this idea of the flipped classroom.

As you know, I’m a big proponent of perspective-taking, so the idea of flipping the classroom on its head is intriguing. That’s not to say that I like being the devil’s advocate just for the fun of it, I think there is great value to having someone intentionally take the opposite perspective. Currently, most folks believe that education happens through lecturing in the classroom and students doing homework at home. So, what if we flipped that around. What if the students had lecture at home and did homework in the classroom?

On its face, the idea might sound a bit strange (how can one have lecture at home without the teacher!), but there are, of course, ways around that. So let’s get back to the study from the article. Do you think that you’d like to have taken part in a flipped classroom? That is, if you think back to your days as a student (or if you still are one), do you think you’d want to learn this way?

Well, the students who took part in the study certainly didn’t think that they’d want to learn this way: 75% of the students in 2012 said that they preferred lectures in class. Do you want to guess how many liked this method after trying it? 90%. That’s a 165-point swing! From 75% who preferred lectures in class to then 90% who preferred the new method.

Alright, so the students like it, but what about their performance? Did it improve?

The study examined three years of a foundational pharmaceutics course, required for all doctor of pharmacy (Pharm.D.) students attending UNC. Overall, student performance improved between 2011 and 2013 by 5.1 percent.

Five percent is a substantial amount, especially when you consider that this method appears unorthodox. The second line of that paragraph causes me to raise an eyebrow: “…doctor of…” Meaning, the students who took part in this study were doctoral students.

Why is this significant?

Well, doctoral students are self-selected group of people who are highly motivated to pursue a graduate degree. This self-selected and highly motivated group is certainly not representative of all university students. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that there are undergraduate students who are like this sect of graduate students, but there are probably more students not like them than there are students who are like them.

This is certainly a great window into how a flipped classroom might succeed, but before I’d consider it a viable option for undergraduate classes, I’d want to see some evidence that the effect holds in that kind of a setting.