Last month I talked about the fact that the broad strokes education system we have in the UK is fundamentally flawed (in my view anyway), because it doesn’t take into account the different ways everyone learns. I talked about the fact that exams don’t work for everyone and that both learnt and life skills can’t be taught to everyone in the same way. But I wouldn’t be much of a learning specialist if I only knew what wouldn’t work! So this month I’m going to take a look at some of the education systems used in other countries that have been designed to help our children learn in their own way, instead of how we think they should learn.
Finland is one of those countries that has boasted a fantastic education system for decades. In fact, Finland has ranked #1 in the international education ranking system for the last 40 years in a row. So how do they do it? Simple – they go against the evaluation-driven education model that most of the Western world uses, including us.
In Finland, schooling is focussed on learning rather than examinations. In fact, there are no national tests throughout education in Finland at all – instead the teachers measure and assess students’ progress in their specialist subject based on ta set of objectives in the curriculum. That means no stressful exams and no ‘ruined lives’ because a student had a bad day before taking an important test. Teachers are responsible for practical teaching, and can choose whatever methods they wish in order to teach their subject. In fact, every aspect of Finland’s schooling system, from the government agencies running them down to local authorities are educators, not business people. Thanks to this, 93% of all students in Finland graduate from an academic or vocational high school.
Children in Finland don’t start school until they are 7 years old, and the only exam they will take is called the matriculation exam, which is taken at 16 in order to progress on to higher education or leave school. All education is available to all and completely free of charge at every level, along with free school materials, meals and commuting. Classes are not split by cleverness or skill, but all children are taught by age instead. This works so well because teachers have so much freedom, so they are able to tailor their teaching to suit individual students. I sometimes wish I lived in Finland just so that I could be part of such an amazing education system.
The school system in Sweden is, at first glance, quite like ours, but with very important differences. Public education in Sweden is compulsory but free for all children between the ages of 7 and 13. Their school year starts in mid-August and runs until June the following year, with mid-term breaks in October, December, February and Easter and a 3-month summer break from June to August. Once a child is 13, they have the option to attend Gymnasium, which is the equivalent of years 10-12 in our schooling system. There are 18 programmes the student can choose from – 6 are more academically focussed and geared towards preparing for higher education and university, while 12 are vocational courses that teach practical skills on the job.
I love this idea of schooling, as it gives the students much more control over what they are learning, and how. Some students for example aren’t particularly good at the academic side of things, but are fantastic with their hands and learning practical skills like mechanics, plumbing or art. Sweden fully supports the idea that students should be able to choose how and what they learn. That attitude goes all the way up to the government, with the Swedish Education Act of 2011 promoting greater oversight, freedom of choice and student safety and security. Our education system could learn a lot from the Swedes.
When we look at some of the other countries out there and the way they are teaching their children, it makes you take a really hard look at the environment our children are in. Of course, our education system does have its advantages, but it’s hard to argue for them when more flexible, freeing and ‘unorthodox’ approaches are so staggering. If you want to know more about supporting you