Learn­ing from Fin­land (Part 1)

Sun.Star Davao - - OPINION - Andy UYBOCO

Imet with a for­mer stu­dent a few weeks ago who is now a school prin­ci­pal. After an ex­change of ideas, we ex­changed books about ed­u­ca­tion. He had my copy of “The Sud­bury Val­ley Ex­pe­ri­ence” while I had his “Teach Like Fin­land.”

So what’s up with Fin­land and their ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem?

Well, Fin­land is no­to­ri­ous for hav­ing a “soft” or non-strict ap­proach to ed­u­ca­tion -- short school days, lots of breaks, lit­tle to no home­work and minimal stan­dard­ized test­ing. Yet, it con­sis­tently per­forms well on a set of in­ter­na­tional tests called the Pro­gramme for In­ter­na­tional Stu­dent As­sess­ment (PISA) which mea­sure crit­i­cal think­ing skills in read­ing, math and sci­ence. In fact, in the very first PISA re­sults in 2001, Fin­land ranked num­ber one.

Teach Like Fin­land was writ­ten by Tim­o­thy Walker, a for­mer teacher in the Amer­i­can pub­lic school sys­tem who re­lo­cated to Fin­land and no­ticed the sharp dif­fer­ences in the teach­ing philoso­phies and meth­ods. The key, as he ob­served, was that Fin­nish ed­u­ca­tors “seem to value hap­pi­ness more than achieve­ment. They make small sim­ple de­ci­sions to pro­mote joy­ful teach­ing and learn­ing.”

Walker then breaks down the five in­gre­di­ents of hap­pi­ness: 1) well-be­ing; 2) be­long­ing; 3) au­ton­omy; 4) mas­tery; and 5) mind­set, then pro­ceeds to dis­cuss 33 strate­gies re­volv­ing around these in or­der to pro­duce a “joy­ful class­room.”

I will not be dis­cussing all 33 strate­gies. You can read the book your­self if you’re that in­ter­ested. I will, how­ever, be dis­cussing a few that have struck me, and then I will try to re­late what I have learned from the Fin­nish ap­proach into my own stud­ies on the Demo­cratic school sys­tem in gen­eral and Sud­bury Val­ley School in par­tic­u­lar.

One way that Fin­nish schools pro­mote well-be­ing is to have a 15-minute break after ev­ery class. Imag­ine hav­ing re­cess ev­ery pe­riod. Oh that would be heaven for a lot of stu­dents here. Classes go for only 45 min­utes, then there’s a fif­teen minute break where stu­dents can do what­ever they want be­fore the next class be­gins.

This sim­ple so­lu­tion gives the brain a break and even has a sci­en­tific ba­sis. An­thony Pel­le­greni, an ed­u­ca­tional psy­chol­o­gist and emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Min­nesota, con­ducted nu­mer­ous stud­ies show­ing that stu­dents were “more at­ten­tive after a break than be­fore a break” and also that “chil­dren were less fo­cused when the

tim­ing of the break was de­layed -- or in other words, when the les­son dragged on.”

To pro­mote be­long­ing, a lot of schools have a “Buddy Up” tra­di­tion where 6th grade stu­dents pair up with 1st grade stu­dent. The young kids now have some older bud­dies to look up to and talk to about this new en­vi­ron­ment called el­e­men­tary school, and the older kids feel a sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity to­wards their ju­niors. Paula Havu, a first grade teacher has this to say about the prac­tice: “Those older stu­dents, when they are given re­spon­si­bil­ity, when they are trusted, when they get a lit­tle buddy to walk with them...they change. They don’t need to be tough. They don’t need to be cool. They need to take care of that lit­tle guy over there and be the role model.”

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View pre­vi­ous ar­ti­cles at www.freethinking.me.

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