Let’s Talk About Finland

MidasMoments: Rob Slee’s Comments on the Nation

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Since none of us have been to Finland, nor are we likely ever to go, I thought it would be nice to write about that Scandinavian country in today’s Moment.

First a factoid. Back in Napoleon’s time, Finland was owned by Sweden. I miss the days when one country could own another. But the much maligned Swedish King at the time – Gustav IV – chose the wrong side of a war and lost Finland to Russia. Who knew?

This is the same King Gustav, by the way, who graces the Great Room in the Slee mansion. A few years back I bought a gilded mirror that Gustav himself presented as a bribe to an Italian Duke. Something about marrying off a daughter. This mirror has special meaning to me because every day when I gaze into it I see royalty. Ha!

Enough about that.

Today I want to talk about Finland’s education system. Keep reading, because this gets good.

Finland’s education system is considered one of the best in the world. In international ratings, it’s always in the top ten. However, the authorities there aren’t ready to rest on their laurels, and they’ve decided to carry through a real revolution in their school system.

Finnish officials want to remove school subjects from the curriculum. There will no longer be any classes in physics, math, literature, history, or geography.

The head of the Department of Education in Helsinki, Marjo Kyllonen, explained the changes:

“There are schools that are teaching in the old-fashioned way which was of benefit in the beginning of the 1900s — but the needs are not the same, and we need something fit for the 21st century.“

Instead of individual subjects, students will study events and phenomena in an interdisciplinary format. For example, the Second World War will be examined from the perspective of history, geography, and math.

This system will be introduced for senior students, beginning at the age of 16. The general idea is that the students ought to choose for themselves which topic or phenomenon they want to study, bearing in mind their ambitions for the future and their capabilities. In this way, no student will have to pass through an entire course on physics or chemistry while all the time thinking to themselves “What do I need to know this for?”

The traditional format of teacher-pupil communication is also going to change. Students will no longer sit behind school desks and wait anxiously to be called upon to answer a question. Instead, they will work together in small groups to discuss problems.

The Finnish education system encourages collective work, which is why the changes will also affect teachers. The school reform will require a great deal of cooperation between teachers of different subjects. As a result, newly trained teachers will get a pay increase.

To borrow a favorite Slee twins aphorism, the Finnish transformation to education is exactly the same but different from the approach I will take to the American education system when I’m finally appointed Benevolent Dictator (which could happen any day now).

I believe the left brain stuff can be almost entirely learned online now. Look at Khan University for proof. So US students going forward will learn left brain subjects outside of the classroom. Schools will be used solely for socialization and right brain problem solving.

Imagine if our kids spent at least half of their education solving real world problems rather than focusing on useless theory? We would have an army of value creators.

Here’s an example. Outside of school students would learn basic math, including geometry. Inside of school they would work in groups learning how to build houses. And on and on.

After 8-10 years of this our students would be both left and right brained.

Who’s with me?

– Rob 

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