Finland’s new curriculum means that schoolchildren will no longer need to sit down quietly in classrooms, since they will instead be able to choose where and how they study. In future there will not necessarily be any traditional enclosed classrooms.
—“The Truth About Finnish Schools” This is Finland
Finland’s schools have been admired for years. Americans and others from around the world have visited and marveled at their success. Scores on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) have consistently been high.
I list several sources below describing the past beauty of Finnish schools and how they have done much that is right when it comes to teaching.
The United States has never imitated Finland’s winning practices. That’s because the goal here has been to privatize public schools.
But wait! Now schools in Finland are changing to mirror America’s reforms! What’s happening?
There are four serious changes in the Finnish school system I am noting here. But this is just scratching the surface of the draconian conversion being made to this once great school system.
- Topics and Phenomenon Classes and Common Core. Steering students into work areas to benefit the economy.
- Technology and Literacy. Finland’s literacy program has always been well-regarded. Now the program is changing.
- Playful Learning Center. Emphasizing technology in the form of games instead of real play.
- HundrED. Selling parents on digital learning.
Topics and Phenomenon Classes and Common Core
Finland changes its broad National Core Curriculum every few years. Some believe they have adopted the Common Core.
More noticeable, two years ago Finland announced schools would change instruction. Technology was a reason along with not wanting to be left behind in the 21st Century.
Last August, they introduced a National Curriculum Framework which included overall goals and guidelines for everything including special education.
Project-based learning and student collaboration are emphasized. The word mindset is often used.
Topics or phenomenon classes are to replace traditional subject classes. These classes involve vocational jobs. More academically inclined students have subjects blended together—cross-disciplinary.
It is important to note that one of the big changes is that students are supposed to design their own learning and assess how they do. This is similar to self-regulation and being able to work independently. The fear is students eventually will work without face-to-face teacher guidance.
Focusing on character education and social-emotional learning is emphasized too.
This sounds like school reform in America!
Many teachers have not been happy with the reforms in Finland. To encourage them, incentives have been given to those who support the changes.
More recently, Finland’s PISA scores are declining, but education leaders claim that it is more important to ensure their young people get the education that will help them in the workforce.
Technology and Literacy
Teachers have always had control over reading instruction in Finland, and children have done well. Children didn’t start formal reading until age seven.
Reading has been more a celebration, without high-stakes testing and the pressure surrounding reading instruction that is found in America.
But with the push for digital literacy how will that change?
The most essential aspect in the curriculum reform is the shift from focusing on learning objectives related to single subjects to an emphasis on broader competencies crossing all learning in schools. The seven competence areas are as follows:
- Thinking and learning to learn
- Cultural competence, interaction, and self-expression
- Taking care of oneself and others; managing daily life
- Working life competence and entrepreneurship
- Competence in information and communication technology (ICT)
- Participation, involvement, and building a sustainable future
In one way or another, digital literacies are embedded into all competence areas, but most explicitly into the areas of multiliteracies and ICT.
Embedded competencies are considered by many to be non-stop digital assessment.
Playful Learning Centers
In 2015, kindergarten teachers in America shook their heads with envy and sadness when they read about lovely play in Finland. Everyone knows kindergarten here is now considered the new first grade.
The 2015 article by Timothy D. Walker in The Atlantic was titled: “The Joyful, Illiterate Kindergartners of Finland.”
In Finland it has been different—more carefree. Students went on to perform well and ended up with strong professional careers.
But now, Playful Learning Center are creating digital learning tools involving computer games. What’s considered educational innovations for all levels includes preschool and primary schools.
Most of us aren’t opposed to a little computer activity for young children, but the Playful Learning Centers sound serious.
The infrastructure of our lab enables us to collect valuable empirical research data that can contribute to the development of innovative 21st century educational solutions for children and their teachers.
The website mixes discussion of what’s good play with digital gaming, and that is confusing.
Where is the research to show that little ones learn better sitting in front of a screen instead of cooking pretend food at a play kitchen? Or dressing like pirates and princesses and participating in make-believe?
They describe it as a “Manifesto!”
Talk like this is often a facade for replacing teachers and schools with digital learning.
In America, Playful Learning is a website funded by the New Schools Venture Fund and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—two school reform masters.
It is dedicated to pushing play in the form of computer games. No one describes how online gaming will take over the real play young children require to thrive.
There are no discussions about screen time limits in school or whether costs outweigh benefits.
Few seem to question how this might obstruct the basic needs of childhood.
The title that grabbed me was this, “Finland is changing everything that sucks about parent-teacher conferences with the world’s largest one.” They are talking about one big global conference—so-called digital innovation—and they want parents on board.
They are talking about HundrED. This is a nonprofit group that seeks innovation for Finland’s schools for the next hundred years. That’s a tall order.
It also sounds nifty to ask for suggestions from around the world. They really have the global thing going on. Will technology bring us together?
And they will create a large data base of information.
If you look at the innovations here, it isn’t hard to notice that most of them are digital.
Here is a sample of what they have collected.
We received applications from preschools, comprehensive schools and high schools from all regions of Finland. The innovations varied from coding clubs to interactive board games; whilst some of the innovations submitted were existing ideas, others offered were completely new.
There is also talk about how the role of teacher is changing.
So the once great education in Finland seems to be threatened. Instead of America adopting Finland’s successful schooling where children thrived and learned to love learning, Finland has been corrupted by the failed, untested and unproven reforms of America.
Maybe HundrED should be HunDRED.
And if you are thinking nothing is sacred anymore I’d say I am afraid you are exactly right.
Sources About Finland’s Great Schools in the Past
Doyle, William. “How Finland broke every rule — and created a top school system.” The Hechinger Report. Feb. 16, 2016.
Hancock, LynNell. “Why are Finland’s schools successful?” Smithsonian. Sept. 2011.
Taylor, Adam. “26 Amazing Facts About Finland’s Unorthodox School System.” Business Insider. Dec. 14, 2011.
Sources Regarding Changes to Finland’s Educational System
Klein, Rebecca. Findland’s Schools Are Overhauling The Way They Do Things. Here’s How. Huffington Post. March 28, 2015.
Nordic ADL –Breakthrough in learning effectiveness and analytics with Phenomenon-Based Learning and Experience API.
Strauss, Valerie. “No, Finland isn’t ditching traditional school subjects. Here’s what’s really happening.” The Washington Post. March 26, 2015.
More About The Technology Take-Over
leonie haimson says
I agree much of this is very troubling. For example, this is what the director of the Finnish Playful Learning Center wrote — which makes it unclear what role for-profit product development is motivating this experiment;
The centre’s research programme produces high-quality, international research data on playful learning, meeting the challenges and requirements of learning in today’s world. The centre’s ecosystem brings together Finnish players (universities, research institutions, growth and startup companies) and international research and product development organisations.
Playful learning strategies are a rapidly growing technology industry. Finland has what it takes to rise to the top of the industry, provided we know how to capitalise on the multidisciplinary competence base required for creating innovative learning solutions. The Playful Learning Center meets this need by developing learning solutions that boost domestic and global well-being.
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you for the link, Leonie. I am puzzled and uncomfortable with their description of play with no mention of computer games. http://plchelsinki.fi/what-is-playful-learning/
Sheila Resseger says
This is so disheartening. Finland worked so hard and thoughtfully to provide a truly humane and successful learning structure for their children. How have they been perverted, I wonder?? And here in America a state legislature is finally considering a bill that recognizes that there may be adverse health risks from all day digital use. Apparently all of the digital entrepreneurs who have been pushing this marvelous 21st century innovation and entrepreneurship (and salivating over the profits) never bothered to consider whether this was actually SAFE for children. Here is a blog post about it. I hope your readers will contact the Representatives in support of this bill. You don’t have to live in MD to do so. “All eyes on Maryland bill to study screen safety in schools” http://missourieducationwatchdog.com/all-eyes-on-maryland-bill-to-study-screen-safety-in-schools/
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, Sheila. There doesn’t seem to be much thought to the use or expense of so much technology.
Because Bill Gates is such a nice guy, and he’s so great, and everything he does is so wonderful…..NOT! Someone drank the wrong KoolAid! When you partake of Bill’s generosity, you must always know that there is a string attached.
That Independent article about ‘scrapping subjects’ has so much to answer for. Why does it keep getting recycled, two years on? You stated that ‘Topics or phenomenon classes are to replace traditional subject classes’ but then referenced a much more informed article from the Washington Post in your sources, which states the contrary. Many others have done too, e.g.: https://eic.rsc.org/news/finland-to-emphasise-topics-for-basic-education/2000235.article
Nancy Bailey says
Fair enough, Andy. I try to show the other side and have much respect for Pasi Sahlberg. I am still questioning what’s happening in Finland and the trend toward technology and personalized learning.
Thank you, Nancy. I appreciate the perspective. I don’t know when and how innovation and personalisation became synonymous with technology.
Pasi is always tackling that ‘Finland scrapping subjects’ story, e.g. the latest (I think): https://education.asu.edu/about/all-events/casge-international-lecture-series-pasi-sahlberg
Nancy Bailey says
I wonder if he will tackle the tech side of it. Personalized learning is becoming an increasing concern and it is about drastically remaking public schools. It also has no research that I’ve seen to back it up. The changes in Finland seem to be all about this. Thank you, Andy. I always appreciate comments like yours.