Leticia Guzman Ingram, Teacher, Basalt High School, Colorado, USA
I have heard over and over how America's Educational System is not performing at the rigor of the Finnish education system. So when I got the chance to go over and study it - I jumped at it. Here are a few key takeaways from Finland that inspired me while also making me feel proud about the things we’re doing right here in the United States.
How Finland values educators
The education program in Finland is known as one of the best in the world. It is very competitive for high school students to be accepted into the education program at the university level. I was surprised to see how hard it was to become a teacher in this country. Only the top students are chosen for acceptance into a rigorous five year education program where they not only complete a bachelors but also a masters. They are expected to have a higher education degree to teach children. Thus, teachers are valued in this country and given lots of autonomy, trust, and respect from society.
There are no standardized tests to hold schools and teachers accountable for the work that they do. The educators in Finland are much more focused on their student’s experiencing the love of learning than they are in the measurement of achievement. Sometimes I find myself so focused on standardized tests that I forget about the joy of learning. I want my students to love learning not because of getting a high score but for a thirst of more knowledge for themselves.
Life skills should not be lost
Educators in Finland focus more on critical thinking and students are not so quick to “Google” the answers. In the past, I have worried that I did not have enough technology in my classroom, but this trip I was reminded that should not be my top concern. Rather than using technology, the Finnish are focused on learning through play.
This year at my local school woodshop class had to be cut out of the curriculum. Life skills are being lost in our stress to be on top academically. My challenge is can we do both. Hands on learning is so important. I remember taking home economic classes sewing shirts, burning, no cooking Italian dishes, and working on changing the oil of my car. It blew me away to learn that the Finnish 3rd graders take these types of classes daily.
I was amazed to see the beautiful dresses they made, the band saw they used, and the kitchens they created meals from scratch. Life skills are embedded in their everyday school schedule. It is obvious from Finland’s educational system that you can do high academic learning while also teaching life skills to prepare students for the real world.
I was blown away with how Finns promote family and education, even at birth. Maternity boxes are provided to all new parents. Finland has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world and many believe it is because of these simple boxes. The government says everyone should have an equal start and the box an important part of that thinking. The baby box is the baby’s first bed. It contains a small mattress, sleeping bag, diapers, clothes for winter and summer, educational resources for both the mother and father, birth control, and even books for the baby. The education system in Finland starts at birth and again represents the country’s commitment to education.
Diversity is our strength
It is truly hard to compare the Finnish Education System with the United States because of the constant changing demographics that we are experiencing in our country. Finland is homogenous: 90 % of the population speaks the same language, and 90 % people follow the same religion. In the United States, our classrooms are full of many different languages, skin colors, religions, and cultures. In my little school, 58 percent of the student body speaks English as a second language.
On the last day of my trip, one of the Finnish administrators asked me for advice on how we are educating immigrants coming from other countries. He said the demographics in Finland were changing and he knew in time, they would be coming to us seeking advice. That really struck me. I strongly believe that we always become stronger collaborating and working hand in hand together. I came away so impressed with the Finnish school system and was even more impressed that day to see the humility they demonstrated by realizing they need to learn from us too.
Finnish schools are one of the top school systems in the world because they know that they do not have all the answers and are constantly looking for ways to support their students. Education is not only about learning the academics but also about embracing one another - from country to country.
Leticia Guzman Ingram
Leticia Guzman Ingram teaches at Basalt High School in Colorado and was named 2016 Colorado State Teacher of the Year. She visited Finland in the summer of 2016.