Friday, March 18, 2011

Finland...Where Less Is More

Zite kept me busy during the hols. I was simply overwhelmed by the sheer amount of reading stuff. Quite amazing.

This topic that caught my attention, Education in Finland. Finland has been singled out together with South Korea and Singapore as having an education system which places priority in recruiting the best of their college grads to enter the teaching profession. Teachers teach what they are trained to. But what is amazing about Finland is their students have been topping or near topping the PISA exams for reading, science and maths. Extra or prep classes are unheard of there.

Many might not have heard of Finland. Yet it has one of the most successful education systems in the world. One thing that stands out is, among the developed countries, Finnish kids spend the least time at school, between 4-7 hours only. Their education system is rather relaxed. Instead of promoting competitiveness, they promote cooperation and sharing. The South Korean and Singapore success on the other hand is build more on competitiveness. Prep classes and tuitions are the hallmarks of these 2 countries and kids are very pressured. Suicide rates among kids are climbing in these countries too.

Parents play an important role too. Many parents read to their kids from a young age. They are involved in their children's education. For kids struggling with specific subjects, an additional teacher comes in and help out with the reinforcement.

Education is a tool for nation building in these countries too. But strangely, national testing, school ranking or even school inspections (like having the Nazir to check on schools in Malaysia) are not practiced in Finland.

A country may spend a lot on education but it does not necessarily translate into better achievements. Countries like South Korea, Finland and Singapore spend way less than a country like Italy and yet still do better. I guess there is less corruption too. These countries invest in education to better their economy. 40 years ago, the state of the Finnish public schools was so bad that they estimated that 75% of the people will flock to other alternatives. The government then decided to change that. And they obviously hit on the right formula.

What can we learn from Finland? Malaysia spends a lot on education too. But a lot of it seems to go to waste. We provide resources for the IT push but equipment lay waste in classrooms, some never seeing service at all. It was more about doling out the contracts so that some people can fatten their wallets. We push for transformations like PPSMI (Maths and Science in English) only to backpedal after spending billions. A big number of our teachers were grads who could not find employment elsewhere. Our smart kids don't ever want to be teachers. Kids take tuitions because many believe that the teachers don't teach well in class. A lot of time is wasted. Our administrators try to ingrain into us that all the teachers are the same. Is this a way of covering shortcomings?

We have educational administrators and planners who seem to be at a lost as to what actually constitutes education. As a result, policies keep changing. There seems to be a constant effort to be seen as doing something, often times glossing up reports which do not benefit students. Programs after programs, yet our graduates are no more employable today than before. In fact, the general consensus seems to be they've gotten worse! The brain drain has robbed us of our best and brightest but again because race comes to play, they rather lose than retain.

Education as a nation building tool. We have way too many types of schools. The non-Muslims are wary of Islamization of their children. And this fear is very valid. So they send their kids to their own vernacular schools. A great opportunity to build on common grounds is lost. Politics continue to harp on our differences rather than common grounds but the funny thing is many politicians send their children to international schools. Education is often seen as dividing students into the 'we' and 'they' groups. Scholarships when given are still perceived to be more race-based than anything. Entrance to local public uni does not follow a universal set of rules for all. Again, it's clear why. Take how the government handle the Bible issue... it takes very little brain to see that religion is a mere tool for UMNO. How do you build a nation on one standard when the leaders are not even consistent?

Parents in Malaysia generally are way too busy to spend time with their kids. I think it's safe to conclude that many middle income families leave the bringing-up to the bibit or kakak (maids). Parents are beat by the time they get home. Some parents hardly see their kids preferring to leave their babies at the baby-sitter. This is quite common among the Chinese. Other parents are too busy eking out a living. Too many kids, not enough money.. cost living is rising by the day.

Tuition is a way of life. Most schools feel that more will translate to more, hence the entry of extra classes after school hours and during term break. The work never stops. The kids hop from school to extra classes and then scurry off to tuitions. By the time they are done, the sun has gone down on them without they having as much as the opportunity to play in it or just take in its beauty. Our kids are a tired lot.

So, instead of the common belief that more begets more, Finland has been able to show that less can actually be more. Frankly speaking I was beginning to doubt that less can be more myself cos even at work places, it is commonly accepted that everything must be more in order to have more. But the Finnish model is a reminder that less is more is possible. A kid gets to be a kid and still grow up to be smart enough to be among the best in the world. Surely, they must be doing something right, striking that sort of utopian balance that would delight a kid? Anyway, read here for an overview of the Finnish education system.

1 comment:

Thomas C B Chua said...

AJ 7, lots of good thoughts on education. I just cannot agree more with you. I also wonder how much most of our teachers and principals the like have in their head. During my time I have seen many teachers who are "penumpang" in the profession. Still looking forward to the day when we can provide cutting edge education to stay abreast.