Sunday, October 08, 2017

The Finnish difference again

For much of the 21st century, Finland has been one of the very top performers in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), an ongoing study administered every three years that tests the reading, math and science literacy of 15-year-olds in developed nations. So educators worldwide flocked there to learn their "secrets".  But Finland is now no longer such a high flyer. In the latest available (2015) results, Finland is now ranked 12th in math, fifth in science and fourth in reading. So a lot of the magic has worn off.  I gather that Finnish is spelled phonetically, so that would give them a big advantage in learning to read over users of English  -- JR

By Kalliope Craft 

When I started this whole business about moving to Finland for a semester, it was about figuring out what Finns are up to that makes their schools so darn successful. Why does a system full of free time and decidedly lacking in rigor (by means of exams anyways) work so well? Well, obviously, I don't know all the answers - I've only been around for a month, but I'm starting to get the feeling that Finnish education really isn't that far off from home's.

So before you freak out, I will admit there is a super systemic difference between American and Finnish education. Namely, they use their time differently than we do and they value different parts of education than we do.

In Finland, school days are organized in 45 minute lesson blocks with 15 minute breaks between and a 30 minute break for lunch. So from 8am until 2pm, students have six lessons (as they get older, they might tack a seventh lesson on the end making the school day end at 3pm.) So, even though students spend about the same amount of time in their day at school, the actually spend less time doing school work. This gives students the autonomy to choose how they use some of their school time, and it lets them free their mind to cool off and reset before the next lesson.

Secondly, in Finland, there is more emphasis on student wellbeing. Sure, in America we say we care about our students, and in reality, I believe our teachers do (at least the good ones). But here, not only do the teachers care, but the system cares. The system is built so that all schools are full of an actual diverse group of students - there is no separation of socioeconomic background or ability. (Let me be sure to say though, there is a segregation between languages - there are Swedish language schools and Finnish language schools, but even that is slowly starting to blend.) Schools aren't funded by property tax (which effectively denies the poor districts from getting the access to the same resources for education as the rich).

Also, school seems less stressful since every 15 minutes they get to relax and recenter. And they don't do standardized tests every March that stresses out the teacher thereby freaking out the kids. In fact, although there is homework and constant evaluation, there is a blissful lack of high stakes exams. No wonder kids don't hate school here. They don't feel like they are having to beat their heads against it all the time.

Finnish schools value subjects far beyond the typical reading, math, and science. Before 6th grade, students already are learning not just their own language, but the second of the official languages (if they natively speak Swedish, they learn Finnish) AND a foreign language (usually English). Elementary school students are also learning home economics, physical education, music, art, and an even separate class time for hand crafts. In America, we hear of schools losing their music programs and neglecting their art programs, but in Finland, they are equally valued as the rest of the school subjects. Finnish schools build whole people, not just "book smart" kids. Which, combined with the lack of stressed out test-taking, makes kids (in general) way less dreadful about going to school.

Okay but here's the fun part, how we are similar:

This week, the school near the university that I observe at has an Interdisciplinary project day. I remember my school doing that once. It was an experiment and I don't know if they've continued it.

The schools are all about breaking the "desks in a row and the teacher at the front" mold. America too.

Finland is embracing technology in the classroom. America too.

Teachers teach from their heart. They have a personal relationship with students. They care about the individual. The good ones do. Guess what? The good American teachers do too.

Their school year is roughly the same as ours - 190 days to our 180.

I could go on and on and on about things that America does in education that Finland also does. Open floor plans, field trips, Exchange City and so much more. The point I'm trying to make here is that our education might not be where most of us want it to be, but we have it in us to get it there. Finland has a lot of things that make it special. But the more and more I learn, the more I realize the stuff they do and love, is stuff we try and don't always stick with.

I know change is never easy. But progress requires change, and my friends, the potential for progress in American education is overflowing. We can get it where we want it. Sure Finland is special, but they don't have to be the only place that is.


What Happened When England Offered ‘Free’ College

Australia too once had "free" university education but it was abandoned by a LEFTIST government as too expensive

In England, "free college" policies resulted in the wealthiest students receiving a disproportionate share of government subsidies.

Proponents of “free college” would have you believe that getting rid of tuition fees is all it takes to create a high-quality, equitable, and accessible higher education system.

But a recent study indicates that in England, removing tuition fees from students achieved the exact opposite result. “Free” college in fact created a system where the wealthy benefited, and the poor were left behind.

Starting in the 1960s, England removed tuition fees for its citizens who were full-time students. As one might expect, this caused a massive uptick in the number of students going into higher education.

After years of concerns about financial sustainability, England started to slowly introduce tuition fees in the late 1990s.

Authors Richard Murphy, Judith Scott-Clayton, and Gillen Wyness studied the impact that charging tuition had on student enrollment, equity in college attainment among different income levels, and education quality.

The authors found that after tuition fees were introduced, the number of low-income students enrolling in higher education actually doubled between 1997 and 2015. This seems counterintuitive, considering that low-income families would seem to struggle the most under the new tuition-based system.

As with most government-run programs, the old tuition-free system in England ended up hurting exactly the people it set out to help. With the massive influx of students under the free system, the quality of the system declined and struggled financially to keep up with demand.

In response, in 1994, the government capped the number of students that could enroll in each university under state funding.

The result? The wealthiest students ended up receiving more of the free college tuition subsidies, since they were typically the most qualified and therefore most likely to succeed when competing for limited seats.

Just as we have seen with experiments with universal health care, government control and financing leads to rationing. As England’s experience demonstrates, removing market competition from higher education did not help low-income students—instead, it restricted their access even further.

The authors also found that the amount of funding an institution could devote to each student increased once England introduced tuition fees, as did student enrollment numbers.

The story of England’s experiment with “free college” should be a cautionary tale for Americans. The concept has certainly gained some traction in the United States already.

Politicians such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., propose offering four years of “free” college tuition to all students at public universities, and New York recently became the first state to offer a two- or four-year degree to residents making $125,000 per year or less.

High student loan debt is a problem for many Americans. But the solution is not to follow failed policies that transfer costs to other taxpayers (most of whom do not hold bachelor’s degrees themselves) and to disadvantage low-income students.

A better approach is to pursue policies that cut off the drivers of tuition inflation.

Economic evidence suggests that unrestricted access to federal student loans has led to an unprecedented rise in college tuition. Heavy-handed government intervention in higher education does more harm than good.

England has demonstrated that when competition and market forces enter the mix, more students gain access to a high-quality education.

American policymakers should take note of this policy shift across the pond, and avoid the temptation of making the same mistakes inherent in “free” college.


Ivanka Trump pens op-ed on kindergartners learning tech

Ivanka Trump, President Trump’s daughter and one of his senior advisors, penned an op-ed on Wednesday arguing that technology and computer science education should begin for children at an early age.

“Given the high and increasing demand for workers with computing skills, it is imperative that all of our students, including women and minorities, have access to computer-science education,” Trump wrote in The New York Post.

Trump noted that jobs in technology exist in numerous other areas from the medical field to the financial sector, and argued that technology education “must begin well before college or trade school.”

“We will continue to focus on placing our citizens on a pathway to a job — starting with K-12 curricula, but also continuing through vocational, skill-based training and apprenticeship programs, including the re-training of displaced workers,” she wrote.

During her time working in her father’s administration, Trump has also pushed for paid family leave. In June she met with GOP senators on Capitol Hill to discuss the issue in addition to the Child Tax Credit.


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