You may have learned everything you need to know about parenting from the Danes, but whoever is running your kid’s school should probably take lessons from some different Scandinavians: The Finnish. That country, which is only slightly bigger than New Mexico, consistently ranks near the top of international tests in science, reading, math and overall education. The U.S., which is, like, 49 times bigger than New Mexico (can someone from Finland check that math?), ranks somewhere in the twenties. Wait! There’s more! Finnish students have a 93 percent high school graduation rate, compared to 81 percent in the U.S. (which happens to be a record high). Fortunately, Finland isn’t accomplishing these remarkable numbers with forest elves and black metal — they’re doing it with practical, innovative education policies that could easily be applied here.
No Grades, No Homework, No Worries
When it comes to take-home assignments, Finland’s high school students get no more than 3 hours of homework per week. Until then, homework is not required, and they also don’t take exams. Which means there are no grades. Which is why your kid just asked you where Finland is.
Well-Paid, Well-Respected Teachers
Finnish teachers are required to have a master’s degree, but the cost of earning one is subsidized by the state — and so is the salary they make, which is considerably more than what their U.S. counterparts pull in: With 15 years experience, a Finnish teacher can earn 102 percent more than they made out of school, while American teachers are usually capped at just 63 percent. Meanwhile, teachers there are afforded a social status on par with doctors and lawyers; needless to say, Finnish parents rarely assume they know better than their kid’s teacher on matters of education. Think your kid’s teacher would say the same?
Less School, (Way) More Play
Finnish kids don’t spend as much time at their desks — elementary school students spend almost 300 less hours per year in class and get around 75 minutes of recess per day, whereas here in the States recess is under 15 minutes in some school systems, and others are have managed to get rid of it altogether. Presumably, that’s because the kids are just so good at sitting still.
A Single Standardized Test
Those well-paid teachers are expected to earn their keep by designing curriculums that are largely customized based on the needs of their individual classes. Tests happen all year long, but they’re specific to that curriculum, so kids’ performance is assessed based on that curriculum. Then, at 16, all Finnish kids take national Matriculation Examination, which is required for high school graduation and determines college preparation. This is a high stakes affair, but one that the country seems to agree is a much better option than constantly testing kids to a national standard, which inevitably creates a one-size-fits-all curriculum and has proven in the U.S. to be plenty high stakes, anyway.
Universal Preschool, A Later Start For Real School
Finnish kids start elementary school at 7 years old, and prior to that they have a legally-protected right to childcare and preschool. So, those programs are nationally funded, which means poor kids have access to the same level of preschool as rich kids. They spend those early years playing under the watchful eye of well-trained early educators, who deliver them to elementary school with a solid foundation of reading and math skills to build on for 9 years, before they hit that big standardized test. Which they perform better on than most U.S. kids, which means a higher percentage go to college. Which is also free.
Pretend you didn’t read that before you started researching what tuition will cost 18 years from now. Or, better yet, start researching what it costs to move to Helsinki.