Monday, May 13, 2013

It is Finnished (actually, it's barely begun)

It's a misconception that Finnish schools don't conduct tests until the kids are 16 or whatever. There is no learning if there are no tests. We always test knowledge for veracity, accuracy, adequacy and applicability to the contextual environment we are learning in or for. To do otherwise is to accept teaching wholesale and without question -- which is indoctrination rather than education.

Every experiment conducted is a test, every problem to solve is likewise a test. The difference is that in the land of the Finns, it is the process of knowledge acquisition that is being constantly tested, while back in the rest-of-the-world it is the competence of the child that is periodically tested. Failure in the former means back to the drawing board, try another approach, do more research, ask more questions; whereas in the latter, failure means the kid is not fit for a higher band, so off you go to join the other dregs of society 'cos that's where you belong. After all, it can't be helped... scarce resources and all that.

What is really absent from Finnish schools that we have in abundance is not tests but competition between the learners. This is not to say that there is no competition at all, but that within the Finnish education system, the emphasis is not on individuals competitively scrabbling about for limited university places, but on cooperative and collaborative learning where success is a total team effort involving teachers and kids working together to make it happen.

Over here, we marvel at the Finns but we make a lot of excuses as to why we are unable to replicate their system in our own schools. After 40 over years of succeeding through competitive education, there's too much inertia to make drastic changes at the national level. However, the nature of systems is that they're infinitely scalable, hence if too big for the entire organization, I can reduce it down to encompass a class or three.

Today was my test case. Last week, I did my set-up: an in-class timed compre assignment under exam conditions. Individual effort, closed off from any external sources, although I did give them the concession of additional time to complete the assignment. This exercise was to make it clear to everyone that there were no free riders, and that everyone was putting their own individual effort to come up with their own answers to the questions therein. But I did not collect their scripts at the end.

Today, I reminded them that although their individual effort was evident, the result distribution could hardly be expected to be equitable. Some bright sparks would do better, the others could only look forward to more dismal prospects. In order to level the playing field, I told them to identify those who probably had the best answers and let the rest 'copy' from them. I didn't tell them who had the best answers, and I didn't tell them how to identify them. I did tell them not to get superglued to their furniture and that they could move around to find the answers they wanted.

As expected, they gravitated around their own immediate social groupings, but it was the first time I heard everyone focused on listening to each other and reading out their answers to one another while they collectively and critically discussed the merits (and demerits) of the answers they were sharing. There were even instances of intellectual promiscuity as information was traded and evaluated across discussion nodes, though that was far and few between. But still, a promising start.

And so begins a new adventure in turning the end of year 'A' levels from an impossible solo slogfest into a massively multiplayer co-op game. If I can create and sustain this kind of collaborative learning environment for my classes, the benefits are twofold: at the end of year consultation period, the kids will be first consulting each other before consulting me, leaving me free to concentrate on the most desperate cases or to deal with common group problems, making consultations more effective, directed and focused. Second, the kids would have built for themselves a network of telepathically interlinked brains which they can tap on through the ether as they are working on their final exams without feeling the need for me to be there with them telling them what to do. At that point, they will be independent just when they need to be.

Success in the education game in S'pore has a lot to do with correctly identifying friend from foe. In the classroom, their are no foes, only friends. Remember our campus motto? It's time to make it real.

Source: How do Finnish kids excel...

No comments: