Critiques on social and education issues
A popular infographic praising Finland’s education system and beliefs has been circulating around the Internet and popular social media networks. Many commenters became self-acclaimed education experts and decided to impose the Finnish education system into the States and Canada to improve our graduation rates. Through illustrations and somewhat elaborate explanations, it will be easy to see how we cannot, and should not, adopt Finland’s system.
Let’s say you designed an Android app, but you want to earn some money from the Apple market too. You figure that the Apple market has a bigger fanbase, and that means more users would buy your app, hence you can earn more from Apple. Your Android app isn’t selling very well, but you know for sure that Apple fans would buy it like hot cakes. You press Ctrl C from your Android programming code, and you Ctrl V it into the Apple app’s programming code window. After all, you want your app to do the same function on the iOS as it did on Android systems. If you’re aiming for the same goal, why not use the same plan?
Here, you may say that they are completely different systems. The Android system functions differently from the iOS, and hence, will have different programming for each to function properly, even if it is towards the same goal. This is the same for any social reforms.
You cannot pluck a social system from one country and Ctrl V it into another country. Social systems are created for the country it is housed in: the system Finland has created, and worked (in the sense that they scored well on PISA), targets the problems that Finland had in their previous education system. Finnish education problems are completely different from problems in Canadian or American education. To copy and paste the Finnish system into a foreign country will only incur more disappointment from the public, and further the image of education as a joke and a failure.
Some problems that North America, as a continent, is facing include: poverty, racism, language barriers, social welfare, abortion and other politics of the body, sexism, health care, and same-sex marriages, just to name a few (although the last part mostly pertains to the States). Scandinavia is very advanced in most of the above mentioned issues. Social welfare systems are elaborate and trust-based. They are very open to talk about sexuality and rights of an individual to their own body. Same-sex marriage was legalized long before it was even an issue in the States.
And what of racism and language barriers?
Finland, like other Scandinavian countries, have little to no language problems. This may sound like a utopia, but it does not come for free. Finland’s population is composed of a people (yes, a people) who look alike to each other, and have very similar beliefs and values, especially religion. Many Scandinavian people have similar physical characteristics of the Aryan type. They speak one language as the vernacular: Finnish. They do know English, but Finnish is used the most often, similar to how French is one of the two national languages in Canada, mais il n’y a pas beaucoup de personnes qui parlent en français couramment en Ontario. Finnish and Swedish are the two national languages of Finland, with Finnish being spoken almost everywhere with the exception of Âland.
And what about racism?
Some of you may notice that the picture I have chosen for this post seems to have nothing to do with Finland. He is certainly not Caucasian, nor does he have blonde hair or blue eyes.
Because Finland is ethnically and visually homogeneous for the most part, people of colour, or of any visible difference, are viewed with a more-than-sceptical eye. Although Scandinavia is very progressive in most social aspects, multiculturalism and pluralism of society are not their strong suit. Finland is notoriously known for being xenophobic, particularly the older generations. Younger generations have adopted a more open-minded view on multiple ethnicities, but there are still many under the influence of their elders. The ethnics groups that are most targeted negatively are Black Africans, particularly if they are Somali.
The thumbnail for this post is of a Somali child. This child would not be well-received. However, through my research, I have discovered that the narrow-minded Finns are usually the loudest, while the more open-minded ones are quiet. Openly hostile acts are associated with drunkenness and extremism, so Finns do know how to censor themselves in public.
The treatment of this Somali child in Finland serves as provoking food for thought.
Another implication with this infographic is the statement “Teachers in Finland are all required to have a Master’s degree. Only the top 10% of graduates are accepted into teaching programs”.
The first statement implies that all teachers are made for university and post-grad. However, a teacher who can practice his or her art excellently might only have a B.A., but does this mean that they are substandard? Many excellent, amazing teachers are not doctorates, but they are good teachers because they know the art of communicating effectively so that their audience understands the content. None of this implies that the teacher has an expensive degree in their field. Teaching is about guiding the student so that they can discover the content themselves, and to adopt a way of understanding that benefits them.
What good is a teacher who has a PhD in English, but cannot explain to his or her students their way of thinking? This is the type of system that Americans are currently using: Post-grad students are being prioritized for programs like Teach for America (TFA), but how does that mean that they can teach well? Teaching is about passion, communication, and knowledge, the former two being the most important factors. Teachers do not need to know everything about algebra to teach algebra. Teachers need to use effective communicating strategies that are inclusive to everyone in the classroom.
I am not asserting that a teacher does not need to know anything. Certainly, teachers must have at least basic knowledge in their field for their teachable. However, passion and communication obviously outrank fancy degrees.
Moreover, many people who strive for post-grad do not have teaching in mind. It is difficult to guide someone who is nearly clueless to the field (compared to you and your knowledge) through the basic steps. After all, these basic steps are mundane. Not all post-grads have the personality characteristics to be a teacher either, patience being the biggest one. People who want a post-grad are mostly pursuing the degree for their own benefit to stand out, and not so much to act as a supporter. Teachers are supporters. Teachers need to know when to step back from the action to let the student fall and learn to stand up, and to provide support when the student is unable to do so himself. Post-grad degrees don’t cover this at all.
I have said earlier that we should not copy Finland’s system and put it into Canada and America without tweaking. Each country has their own problems to work out. Canada has a good reputation in the sphere of multiculturalism: our immigration policies are welcoming, and we have many social programs to help immigrants settle and find employment. Finland does not. Many Canadian schools have teachers who promote pluralism and acceptance of other cultures in their classrooms. Finland mostly does not.
Yes, Finland may seem to be nearer the top of the social ladder, but are they? Every country’s education system has flaws, but the difference is how heavily we value these flaws and accomplishments. Canada has multiculturalism to boast of. Finland has high test scores to boast of (although personally, test scores are not the best assessors of student learning at all in my opinion). We need to embrace our achievements and stop seeing ourselves as a country wrought completely with flaws.
We can learn several things from Finland. The infographic states that teachers are as esteemed as their doctors or lawyers. Recognition for one’s work is a powerful motivator, much more than the salary. Reputations of the teaching profession in the UK and US are abysmal: teachers are seen as scum and treated like dirt. The community does not want to partner with the school, and vice versa. Administrations are trying to outdo each other in test scores. Teachers are seen as slaves who should be grateful they have a paycheque at all for teaching 30 kids for 6 hours every weekday. And when they ask for collective bargaining rights, or just their way of handling a classroom? How dare they!
Parents are worried that their child is not receiving the best. And it is true. Their children are not receiving the best because the community and school are not partners in the student’s growth and development. Both parties should sit down and discuss a growth plan that is beneficial for the students as a whole. Treating teachers as partners (rather than as the Devil’s advocates) can only deepen the students’ understanding and further their personal growth.
An interesting point to think about is the reason behind the social face of teachers. Is it because they only accept the top 10% of graduates for teaching programs? We have already discussed these problems earlier. Perhaps we need to figure out another way to boost teacher reputation in society.
Another thing we can learn from Finland, aside from recognizing teachers as partners, is to reduce the emphasis on testing, especially the idea of using tests as assessments of teaching quality. It is ironic at best that a teacher has finally earned his or her B. Ed., they are still being questioned for their capability in the classroom, with society demanding for more testing. Do we question doctors’ abilities to cure our diseases, even knowing that they are recent graduates? Do we question the plumber working on our pipes, or do we trust them that they know what they are doing?
So why are we not trusting the teachers to know what they are doing, even after obtaining their B. Ed.? A B. Ed. is just as difficult to earn as any other degree that has a practical component, like being a M.D.
Copying Finland is not the answer. We can refer to their model, but we need to either tweak their system to the country’s context, or create a system that addresses to our problems.
After all, it seems useless to try and put an Android app on an iOS.