by Guest Author, Joel Josephson

 

Learning timeAs educators we are more than constantly frustrated by the interference of academics (with little or no experience of the teaching of children), politicians and administrators with little or no direct pedagogic experience in the education process.

Their solution to raising educational standards, almost globally, is to test children as a way to weed out bad teachers, so that children get good teachers. This testing regime flies in the face of all conceived notions of how to teach and motivate children to attain and learn.

But why do the powers that be, completely ignore reality and disrespect educators. It is even worse, they constantly zip of to Finland and other successful educational systems and then find a million reasons, ‘Why it wont work here’.

We know that testing of children produces failure, stress, teaching to the test, not learning or even more importantly today, learning how to learn.

But how did we get to this, why has education slipped out of the grasp of professional educators and in to the hands of amateurs?

I do not think there is a single answer, but I do think that educators are perceived to have left a vacuum in educational pedagogic theory and a vacuum is always filled, even with toxic ideas. From a scientific standpoint it is obvious that education is a social science without any clear room for a single ‘Law’. The children represent even more parameters than the possible teaching theories, from academic homes, deprived homes, immigrants, gifted, with special needs etc etc etc.

So without a ‘General law’ or even agreement on how to teach, we cannot prove that our ideas and methods are any better than the politicians.

I am going to use the Finnish school system as the nearest thing we have to a ‘General law’ to see the different methods they use to achieve the most successful school system on the planet. Finnish children consistently come top or very close to the top for science, reading and mathematics

Curriculum

  • The national curriculum is only broad guidelines

Teachers

  • All teachers in Finland must have a masters degree, which is fully subsidized.
  • Teachers are selected from the top 10% of graduates. (In 2010, 6,600 applicants vied for 660 primary school training slots)
  • Teachers only spend 4 hours a day in the classroom, and take 2 hours a week for “professional development”
  • Experienced teachers are paid at similar levels to other graduates
  • Teachers are given the same status as doctors and lawyers

Children

  • Finnish children don’t start school until they are 7
  • They rarely take exams or do homework until they are well into their teens
  • The children are not measured at all for the first six years of their education
  • There is only one mandatory standardized test in Finland, taken when children are 16
  • All children, clever or not, are taught in the same classrooms
  • Finland spends around 30 percent less per student than the United States
  • Elementary school students get 75 minutes of recess a day
  • 30 percent of children receive extra help during their first nine years of school
  • Finally, Finnish children spend less hours in school than most other developed nations

Reference link to the OECD data: http://www.oecd.org/document/52/0,3746,en_2649_39263238_45897844_1_1_1_1,00.html

General Law

So lets try to build a ‘General Law’ or should it be called the Finnish Law. But before we go there we should remember that this huge advance in Finland occurred in the 70s before that they achieved average results and were not a wealthy or innovative country. This was a conscious change.

1. They started to change their system with the teachers and built a ‘Trusting’ regime were teachers are considered, and are, top professionals in their field. They respect the teachers abilities by letting them teach as they see fit, not to a rigorous, test orientated curriculum. The teachers work together and collaborate all day, every day, gaining support, and ideas.

2. Respecting early childhood as the base for all further human and learning development and allowing children to PLAY, learn to learn and discover how to become responsible members of society

3. Taking the stress out of primary and secondary education. There is no testing of the children or the teachers, there is very little homework, there is loads of support to overcome difficulties, loads of time to play, lots of bright committed, well-trained teachers who have the responsibility for their own teaching.

So what is the ‘General Law’ we can arrive at from this brief study?

Good effective education requires: Trust. Respect. Play, Learning to learn, Support.

Teach the teachers, very well. After you train them, trust them, respect them and leave them alone to do the job they are committed to.

Let babies and toddlers have a childhood free from ‘Teaching’. Provide them with opportunities to learn how to learn. Let them arrive hungry at the dinner plate of education with healthy appetites.

Children learn best in a stress free environment, without tests, lots of support (so it is difficult to fail or be a failure), lots of play, lots of great teachers.

Are our societies ready to implement this simple ‘General Law’ can politicians believe their own eyes?

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Joel Josephson is the initiator/partner in 17 innovative European language projects. Joel is well known for his exciting and effective approaches to motivate language learners. Joel runs theEU_Educators Facebook group, that is sharing EU projects globally. He also founded the Kindersite Project early learning website, one of the first effective sites for schools. Formerly involved in high tech at the start of the Internet, he had 2 successful start-ups and consulted to technology companies. He has brought his understanding of technology into education by initiating many interesting projects with innovative uses of ICT. His Twitter handle is @acerview54.

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