Sunday, September 29, 2013

Education: how the Finns don't do it

We're still talking about Finland? There's no point, really, because we're not prepared to do (or not do) what works for them in education. We won't leave things alone; we won't stop trying to control everything; and we won't trust that the system works; and we will keep trying to fix what isn't broken.

First, who are the 'we'? 'We' are everybody who wants a say in the education process. The teachers, the management, and the officials represented under the Ministry (as a collective whole), the parents, the employers and the students themselves, all stakeholders, all wanting to put their fingers in the pie so that they can manipulate the system to their own benefit. Not that it's wrong to expect education to benefit society, which it does, but when it comes to specific stakeholder goals, we can't please everybody.

We who are in the education Ministry want to be trusted as competent professionals who are doing our best for our charges. We're not getting this trust when parents insist on sending their kids for after-school tuition classes to tip balances in their favour. The employers want a competent, smart, reliable pool of prospective employees, but what comes out of our system on the whole are grads who study all the time and haven't invested time and resources in developing themselves as self-motivated individuals with a variety of interests that are relevant to working adult life -- or even life in general. The kids themselves want a less stressful life and opportunities to express themselves and their interests in non-academic pursuits but sacrifice them all chasing after the almighty 'A' grade in every subject that could conceivably 'land them a good job'.

The only ones who benefit from this chaos are the agents who can offer the best strategies to game the system, and they're not even stakeholders: the side-industry of after-school tuition who see the opportunity to profit by being the only ones who offer the most stakeholders what they want: 'A' grades. And since 'A' grades seem to be the compromise position, that's all we ever aspire to achieve... while the employers go find employees elsewhere. Why else would we need a moratorium on foreign worker employment if it wasn't so highly in demand in the first place?

Our education landscape is nothing like Finland's. We believe in fast-tracking. The faster the train we can put our kids on, the better. The fastest trains are in our estimation the most successful, while the slower trains are to be avoided at all cost. It's almost as if we can't wait to get rid of our kids and send them out into the world as quickly as possible, while holding their hands the whole time. If we, heaven forbid, happen to catch a slow train, it's our kid's fault... or our own fault and we prefer to spend the journey berating everybody responsible instead of spending the extra time with our kid just enjoying the journey and each other's company.

I don't really know what it's like in the mythical land of the Finns, but I believe that they have two key advantages over us. Yes, their teachers are allegedly the best, but the 'best' teachers here don't last too long in the industry -- many of them prefer to step out and operate their own business instead. What the Finns have are what we will never have: Time and Trust. Time to learn, time to make mistakes, time to grow, time to play; and Trust that no matter what -- even without our meddling -- it'll be all right in the end.

Photo credit: Amy ('cos I couldn't find a non-subscription link to the article)

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