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Finland’s Education System Ranks Higher Than America’s

Samantha Grunden, Opinions Editor

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The United States ranks seventeenth out of forty countries judged on overall educational performance. Finland ranks first, according to a report by The Economist Intelligence Unit.

“The education system as we know it today was mostly designed during the early 19th century during the Industrial Revolution and has not changed a whole lot since then,” said Mr. Stevens, a history teacher at West Springfield High School. Many feel that we will not improve if we are unable to keep up with the changing times.

Finland rated at the same educational level as the United States for decades, but since the 2000’s they have updated their guidelines and are now untouchable as the highest scoring country. Finland has a high-school dropout rate of less than 1%, whereas the U.S. has a 25% dropout rate.

Beginning in kindergarten, the United States requires six hours a day in school sitting in a classroom. In Finland, however, children get to spend their little time of being a child mostly outside. In Finland, the kindergarten school day is four hours long, and an hour of that time is spent outside learning and playing with classmates. A typical kindergartener only spends one day a week doing actual desk work. “Your brain has to relax every now and then, if you constantly work work work, then you stop learning,” said Leena Liusvaara, a Finland school principal in the documentary Where to Invade Next directed by Michael Moore.

Teachers in Finland claim that when you learn without having fun, you tend to not remember the things you are learning. In Finland schools, the students are having so much fun with the activities that they don’t realize they’re learning skills. In the U.S., however, a typical school day for kindergarten students is three and a half hours of daily literacy instruction and an hour and a half of daily math instruction. Elementary students get 20 minutes of daily “physical activity time” (officially banned from being called “recess”). American students spend a considerable amount of time testing even when they first enter school. They generally have two 56-question standardized tests in literacy and math—on the fourth week of school, explained a veteran teacher in Arkansas interview in The Atlantic.

The average high school student in Finland does not have to stress about high-stakes standardized testing. Every 45 minutes, a student has a legal right for 15 minutes of free time. Finnish teachers believe that students work and learn better when they are allowed to relax and unwind after working. Their brains are allowed to have a break.

By age nine, Finnish students begin to learn Swedish, the second most popular language in Finland. At 11, they start studying a third language, usually being English. A large majority of students even take on a fourth language around the age of 13.

Students are generally between the ages of 5-18 which is considered being a child. In Finland, lots of teachers have a common belief that a kid should enjoy doing kid activities before they become an adult. In Moore’s documentary he interviews students and principals. Pasi Majasaari, High School principal in Finland stated, “These kids have a lot of other things to do after school ; like being together, being with family, like doing sports, like playing music, like reading…” Majasaari is talking about how Finland schools assign minimal homework, whereas the U.S has an average of 17.5 hours a week of homework, according to a survey by USNEWS.

“State standards meant to level the playing field funnel money away from arts and humanities while putting districts against each other through standardized testing,” Mr. Stevens continued. During a faculty interview in Finland, the teachers explained that teaching to a standardized test is teaching your students to do well on those tests and not teaching them any skills besides what can get them an A. In this interview, they were shocked to find out that America focuses in on English, math and science and have been cutting art programs more and more. “We are so focused on teaching to the MCAS that we’ve lost the time to just explore ideas,” said Mrs Svec, an English and performance arts teacher at WSHS. In Finland, teachers are allowed to choose their own textbooks and customize their lesson plans. They aren’t required to administer standardized tests, and assign little homework. Yet, with all this freedom Finland is still scoring higher overall, with happier students, teachers and parents.

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Finland’s Education System Ranks Higher Than America’s