Word-Of-the-Week #635: Best

September 25, 2016 by  

Best – surpassing all others in excellence, achievement, or quality.

Do you want to be the best you can be? Do you want your children and grand-children to have the best life has to offer? Do you think that children today are being forced to grow up too fast?

This week’s Why Finland has the best schools written by William Doyle totally made sense to me and I believe our education system could benefit if they adopted the same principles.

Doyle writes, “The Harvard education professor Howard Gardner once advised Americans, “Learn from Finland, which has the most effective schools and which does just about the opposite of what we are doing in the United States.”

Following his recommendation, I enrolled my 7-year-old son in a primary school in Joensuu, Finland, which is about as far east as you can go in the European Union before you hit the guard towers of the Russian border.

OK, I wasn’t just blindly following Gardner — I had a position as a lecturer at the University of Eastern Finland for a semester. But the point is that, for five months, my wife, my son and I experienced a stunningly stress-free, and stunningly good, school system. Finland has a history of producing the highest global test scores in the Western world, as well as a trophy case full of other recent No. 1 global rankings, including most literate nation.

In Finland, children don’t receive formal academic training until the age of 7. Until then, many are in day care and learn through play, songs, games and conversation. Most children walk or bike to school, even the youngest. School hours are short and homework is generally light.

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Unlike in the United States, where many schools are slashing recess, schoolchildren in Finland have a mandatory 15-minute outdoor free-play break every hour of every day. Fresh air, nature and regular physical activity breaks are considered engines of learning. According to one Finnish maxim, “There is no bad weather. Only inadequate clothing.”

One evening, I asked my son what he did for gym that day. “They sent us into the woods with a map and compass and we had to find our way out,” he said.

Finland doesn’t waste time or money on low-quality mass standardized testing. Instead, children are assessed every day, through direct observation, check-ins and quizzes by the highest-quality “personalized learning device” ever created — flesh-and-blood teachers.

In class, children are allowed to have fun, giggle and daydream from time to time. Finns put into practice the cultural mantras I heard over and over: “Let children be children,” “The work of a child is to play,” and “Children learn best through play.”

 The emotional climate of the typical classroom is warm, safe, respectful and highly supportive. There are no scripted lessons and no quasi-martial requirements to walk in straight lines or sit up straight. As one Chinese student-teacher studying in Finland marveled to me, “In Chinese schools, you feel like you’re in the military. Here, you feel like you’re part of a really nice family.” She is trying to figure out how she can stay in Finland permanently.

Stay tuned…the rest of the story next week.

This week is about the best. Do you want your children and grand-children to have the best education possible? Do you believe that education is crucial to the overall development of an individual and society at large? How much better do you think children would do if they had less academic pressure and more play time?

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