How A Radical Idea In Finland Reminds Us American Schools Are Failing

by John Haltiwanger

US students are lagging behind the rest of the world in math and science.

Researchers have been working on pinpointing the reasons behind the gap between American schools and educational systems across the globe.

It certainly doesn't help that a majority of US public school students are living in poverty. Students who come from less privileged backgrounds are less likely to have support at home, are less frequently exposed to enriching activities outside of school and more likely to drop out of college, according to the Washington Post.

Poverty and education are intrinsically linked.

It's not only socioeconomic factors negatively impacting American students, though; it's also the way in which this country perceives and approaches education.

We are determined to place knowledge in boxes. Students are taught to view academia as a series of separate subjects, rather than interconnected topics and philosophies.

This prevents them from being properly prepared for the complex and globalized world we live in.

American schools could learn a great deal from Finland's education system, which is ranked among the best in the world. Finnish students consistently perform better than their American peers in reading, math and science.

What is Finland doing differently?

For one, it isn't gauging academic progress with endless standardized tests. When students in Finland exhibit different needs, teachers do whatever it takes to ensure they succeed.

Finnish schools are also less inclined to measure the individual progress of teachers, and pay more attention to how a school performs as a whole.

It's a team effort, a collective endeavor.

Finnish students are also given less homework and spend less time in the classroom. After every class, students have a 15 minute recess period to play, which helps them refocus and recharge. They learn in a relaxed environment, and education becomes less of a chore and more of a privilege to be enjoyed.

Finnish schools succeed because they prepare students for life.

Now, the country is taking this philosophy to revolutionary heights. Finland has decided to abandon teaching subjects altogether. School days will no longer be divided into one hour of history, followed by an hour of math and so on.

Instead, students will be taught by topic.

For example, one such topic is the European Union, which combines history, geography, languages and economics. They learn to see these ostensibly separate subjects as interrelated, and gain valuable skills along the way.

Finnish students will gain a practical education that prepares them for the real world.

The American education system could learn a great deal from this approach. It might seem radical, but it's evident US schools need drastic changes before they can improve.

If nothing else, we need to stop politicizing education in this country. The future of American students should not be dictated by ideology, but by the simple desire to see them succeed.

If we are going to save US schools, we have to admit American culture can often work against them.

Citations: Finland schools Subjects scrapped and replaced with topics as country reforms its education system (The Independent ), Why Finlands schools are top notch (CNN), US students improving slowly in math and science but still lagging internationally (Pew Research ), Majority of US public school students are in poverty (Washington Post), Finland Scraps Subjects In Schools And Replaces With Topics In Drastic Education Reforms (Huffington Post UK), Why Are Finlands Schools Successful (Smithsonian ), The Secret to Finlands Success With Schools Moms Kids and Everything (The Atlantic ), What if Finlands great teachers taught in US schools (Washington Post), Why do Finlands schools get the best results (BBC), How Finland Keeps Kids Focused Through Free Play (The Atlantic )