Reblogged from the Los Angeles Times by William Doyle
The Harvard education professor Howard Gardner once advised Americans, “Learn from Finland, which has the most effective schools and which does just about the opposite of what we are doing in the United States.”
Following his recommendation, I enrolled my 7-year-old son in a primary school in Joensuu, Finland, which is about as far east as you can go in the European Union before you hit the guard towers of the Russian border.
OK, I wasn’t just blindly following Gardner — I had a position as a lecturer at the University of Eastern Finland for a semester. But the point is that, for five months, my wife, my son and I experienced a stunningly stress-free, and stunningly good, school system. Finland has a history of producing the highest global test scores in the Western world, as well as a trophy case full of other recent No. 1 global rankings, including most literate nation.
In Finland, children don’t receive formal academic training until the age of 7. Until then, many are in day care and learn through play, songs, games and conversation. Most children walk or bike to school, even the youngest. School hours are short and homework is generally light.
Unlike in the United States, where many schools are slashing recess, schoolchildren in Finland have a mandatory 15-minute outdoor free-play break every hour of every day. Fresh air, nature and regular physical activity breaks are considered engines of learning. According to one Finnish maxim, “There is no bad weather. Only inadequate clothing.”
One evening, I asked my son what he did for gym that day. “They sent us into the woods with a map and compass and we had to find our way out,” he said.
Finland doesn’t waste time or money on low-quality mass standardized testing. Instead, children are assessed every day, through direct observation, check-ins and quizzes by the highest-quality “personalized learning device” ever created — flesh-and-blood teachers.