As globalization progresses faster and faster as the U.S. competes on the global stage, one question has begun to loom on everyone’s mind: how do we compare to the rest? In terms of schools, the results are not optimistic.
First, let’s narrow down our view and look at only two countries’ schools: the U.S, and Finland. That Finland has some of the best schools in the world is contested by none. They receive superb test scores every year, far surpassing the United States. But just what causes Finland to be such a powerhouse educationally? To find out, one only needs to look and see the differences between the two countries education systems.
The United States has a standardized-test driven curriculum, with lots of homework and few breaks. Teachers are forced to keep a fast pace to fit in everything they have to teach, and rarely have time to be one-on-one with individual students. Studies have shown that this method breeds unhealthily high levels of stress in students, and that American students are often more stressed than the adults of their country.
In comparison, Finland has almost entirely done away with standardized testing (students take only one standardized test at the age of 16), encourages teachers to move at the student’s pace, and make sure that their students have plenty of free time. Teachers usually have students take a fifteen minute break after forty-five minutes of instruction, and have a seventy-five minute lunch break. It has been observed in studies that after these breaks kids are typically more attentive and ready to learn. In addition, Finnish students will receive little to no homework until they reach high school. Teachers are required to be highly educated in Finland- teaching at any level above kindergarten requires a master’s degree.
In comparison to Finland, the U.S’s methods seem illogical. They don’t provide a better education and they cause huge amounts of stress among high school students. So why doesn’t the U.S simply adopt Finland’s methods of teaching? The U.S and Finland simply have too many differences. When the United States is looking at Finland’s schools, they will find them hard to emulate without changing key issues holding us back. First, we must fund our schools equally. Finland has developed a formula to evenly distribute resources to schools, which gives every school equal opportunities. Next, we have to focus on the wellbeing of our children, and make it so that childcare, comprehensive health care, and preschool is available to all children in our community. We must also have education be free, or at least affordable. The quality of education for teachers, as well as the public’s trust and confidence in their autonomy, must grow. If these conditions are not met, the United States has little chance of ever imitating Finland’s admirable school system without it failing.
It is not simply a matter of improving our test scores that makes adopting at least some of Finland’s unusual education vital. Recent studies have shown that students are more stressed in their day to day school lives than most adults. These stress levels are unhealthy, which is clearly shown in a study where “forty percent of teens reported feeling irritable or angry during the previous month, and thirty-six percent reported feeling nervous or anxious. A little over a third reported having lain awake at night due to stress. Thirty-two percent reported experiencing headaches, twenty-one percent reported upset stomach or indigestion and twenty-three percent had skipped a meal because of stress.” In addition, according to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, on average, teenagers are getting a whole two less hours of sleep than they need. Unsurprisingly, school was reported as being a large cause of stress by an overwhelming eighty-three percent. Due to our school system, most students have already lost their enthusiasm for learning. In fact, some researchers have shown that as students progress through school, they develop increasingly negative attitudes toward the subjects taught.
The current state of our schools must not go on. Finland is an example that we can reach to, in an effort to reform our schools into a place where kids can truly learn. There are many obstacles preventing us from achieving Finland’s impressive standard, but we can work slowly to work in improvements that will benefit our schools, for the sake of our students.
By Julia Poetzinger