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The short version of this essay would go like this: Canada’s education system is crap relative to Finland’s and so we should make ours more like theirs. But since that doesn’t entirely envelop all of my feelings, emotions and opinions about this topic, – which is why you’re reading this isn’t it? – here’s the long version. Many areas in Canada’s education system are lacking and they can be improved through the adoption of the teaching methods and the ideologies used in Finland.
In Finland, teachers are scrutinized and tested rigorously before they can teach. They are also required to complete a master’s degree before they can pursue teaching – which puts them up there on the respect ladder with doctors and lawyers. Students’ needs are put first in Finland. Teachers will do everything they can to keep the students engaged – which sounds like the polar opposite of some teachers I’ve had in the past, and undoubtedly some teachers you’ve had. Lastly, the importance of a good education in Finland is far greater than that of Canada’s and it has a lot to do with the Finns’ culture. Canada’s culture towards education could use a shift in a similar direction as the country that invented Nokia – which is also the country where it is unusual to not have a sauna in your home. Go figure.
Teachers in Finland love what they do and they’re very well respected. Professionals are handpicked from the top 10% of the graduates to earn their required master’s degree in education. The process of becoming a teacher in Canada as well as the role of a teacher in a student’s education needs to be changed. Firstly, teachers need to be given more leeway. In the land of the Finns, teachers don’t follow a set curriculum. Instead, they are given expected outcomes and general guidelines for what needs to be taught, as well a whole lot of authority with regards to lesson plans, teaching style and assignments. For example, in a suburb named Espoo, the principal of Kirkkojarvi Comprehensive School, Kari Louhivuori, decided to take a struggling, unmotivated and non-Finnish speaking sixth-grade immigrant student, Besart Kabashi, as his own private student. In one year, Kabashi learned to speak, read and write fluently in Finnish. He learned to love school and love learning. His life was turned around – and that is Nick Jamkhou what teachers pride themselves on in Finland: turning students’ lives around. What’s more amazing is that Louhivuori hadn’t taught a student in over 20 years, but he still thought that it was his responsibility to bring Kabashi up to speed. Stories like this one are unheard of in Canada.
Teachers don’t have the same opportunities to develop that special bond with students and it’s partly because teachers only get to teach their kids for one year. Occasionally they’ll see some students in a class that they’re teaching the next year, but that’s not enough to create a meaningful personal connection with each student. Students should be taught by the same teacher for the entire time they spend at a school. Because they’d be teaching them for so many years, teachers would feel personally responsible for the education of their students and it would motivate them to do a stellar job. Teachers in Finland are trusted to do anything. They are allowed to take their kids out to forests whenever they please to learn about biology. They’re also allowed to combine their classes with other teachers so that the students get exposed to different teaching styles.
Giving teachers more responsibility and a greater role in educating students in addition to changing the process in which they’re selected for jobs is an essential first step to improving our education system.
The needs and interests of students should be put first in Canada. In Finland, the education system is designed to educate students. Canada’s is not. The purpose of our education system was expertly stated in an essay by John Gatto entitled Against School: School trains children to be employees and consumers. School trains children to obey
reflexively. Schools are meant to tag the unfit – with poor grades and other punishments clearly enough that their peers will accept them as inferior and effectively bar them from the reproductive sweepstakes.
Homework is rare, marking students is seldom, and students are never compared to each other. People hate being compared to others, so why are we constantly doing it? It certainly doesn’t motivate people to achieve. If anything it’ll slap their self-worth in the ear lobe and make them hate your guts. We shouldn’t be trying to make students feel bad about themselves. Instead, we should be making them feel happy. One of Finland’s mottos is “If the students aren’t happy, how do you expect them to show any interest in learning?” – and it’s a perfect one. They make sure that students get 75 minutes of recess in addition to 15-minute breaks in between lessons. On top of all of that, cafeteria food, taxi services and counseling are all free for everyone and college tuition is subsidized completely. If students feel that they’re being put first, they’ll try harder in school. They’ll want to learn and they’ll feel important and cared for. They’ll look forward to going to school because they’ll know that everyone working there is completely devoted to their success. This is what school is for after all, isn’t it? If it’s not for the students then who’s it for?
Prioritizing students’ needs is a second essential step towards improving our education system. Culture is the most important thing when it comes to improving our education system. The way that Finns think about education is completely different from Canadians. They like to prepare kids to ‘learn how to learn, not how to take tests”. They don’t believe in statistics. They say, “we know much more about these kids than these tests will ever tell us.” They have smaller schools because they believe that it’s best for making personal connections between the teachers and the students. A lot of people would argue that this sort of thing – the smaller schools, the subsidized schooling and the thorough testing of teachers – isn’t possible in North and South America because we have a bigger population and it would cost too much. What’s interesting is that in Norway, a country with the same population as Finland, is not doing as well in educating their people according to national rankings because they’re following the standardized system of education. And to address the financial issue with the subsidization of everything, Finland is spending almost one and a half thousand dollars less than Canada and the United States per student. Interestingly, the closest things we have to free tuition are scholarships, loans and grants – which are only given to select students who accomplish various requirements – which goes Nick Jamkhou against the ‘no competition between students’ rule in Finland. Why should students have to compete with each other to get grants that they’re going to have to pay back for years after they graduate? What’s worse is that since there are a limited number or scholarships, many students are going to feel self-pity and unworthiness when they aren’t awarded with one because they’ve let their parents as well as themselves down. This competitiveness is so unnecessary. What it’s doing is discouraging students from trying their best in school because they want to avoid the emotions mentioned above. It renders them hopeless. A change in culture is the third essential step towards improving our education system. In conclusion, if we really want to improve our education system, we need to eliminate the standardization of students, change the role of teachers in schools as well as the requirements needed for them to become teachers. Lastly, we need to put students first. School has to be a place where students feel welcome and loved. It must be a place where only the best are teaching, that is, people who will do what ever it takes to ensure the success of their students.
In short, our schools should be more like Finland’s. Their education system is nearly flawless and it’s been proven for over a decade. I know that if we wanted to do it we could. The problem is that not enough people want it enough. Together, if we strive for a Finland-like education, we can make it happen.
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