Instil A Love Of Learning, Results Will Come On Their Own

The Indian Education System's overemphasis on results kills the joy of learning in our children. In Finland, they do things differently. Follow their methods to help your child.

By Nalina Ramalakshmi

Instil A Love Of Learning, Results Will Come On Their Own

Recently, Sanjana, an ‘anxious’ young mother of a two-year-old approached me with a barrage of questions relating to her child’s education, and was even wondering if she was a bit late.

Well, Sanjana is not alone. There are many of us who are keen for an early start to school. As parents, we all want our children to succeed. We want to give them the best education possible. Great intentions. But, are we doing our bit as parents? Are we collaborating with teachers as well as we should? Is our support system robust enough to help our children become successful in the future? What is the right age to start school? With these questions in mind, I decided to travel to Finland with a group of leading educators to understand the Finnish education system, widely regarded as one of the best in the world.

The education system in Finland was at crossroads not long ago. Today, it ranks consistently among the top in the global Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) for 15-year-olds worldwide. PISA assesses a student’s real-world problem-solving and cognitive skills in the areas of Maths, Reading and Science. Finland is also ranked high in the Global Innovation Index that aims to capture the multidimensional facets of innovation in 128 economies worldwide.

The Finnish education system has always aroused my curiosity. I wanted to experience first-hand how Finnish schools function and how children learn. I wanted to share with parents like you what I observed and what helps children become successful learners for life.

The highlight of our trip was our visit to four different schools. We saw in action classes ranging from preschool to ninth grade, a day-care facility and a centre for special needs children. We toured the schools’ facilities and dined on the nutritious, yet delicious food in the cafeterias. We interacted with students, teachers and principals to get their perspective on the pedagogy and learning environments.

The Vision Behind The Finnish Education System

As we walked through the halls of the Finnish schools, we saw joyful children in action — thinking, creating and collaborating.

EVERY CHILD IS IMPORTANT

Finland places a great emphasis on education and learning. The government funds all education, including university education. All expenses, from transportation to nutritious lunches are fully funded. Children with special needs receive the required support and education. Some are integrated into the regular school system. Children who require special attention are provided with necessary support, including one-on-one care.

UNORTHODOX EDUCATION SYSTEM

Children start kindergarten only at age seven. 'Why age seven?' was a question we kept asking. The simple answer was, 'We want children to be children.' More importantly, children at this age are developmentally ready to focus and learn. Recently, Finland introduced a pre-primary programme for six-year-olds to prepare them for primary school through the play-way method of learning. Primary school continues till sixth grade and secondary school is till ninth grade. Education is compulsory for all children up to the ninth grade, when they reach the age of 16.

At this point, children can opt for one of the following tracks:

  1. Upper Secondary school: A three-year programme at the end of which children take a Matriculation Exam that determines their placement in universities.
  2. Vocational Education: A three-year training programme for various careers. At the end of the programme, students can opt to enrol in a Polytechnic school, take the Matriculation Exam to attend University, or start working. Close to 60% opt for this track.
  3. Join the workforce: Less than 5% choose this track. Children thus have the option to focus, develop their passions and talents, and take up careers that will lead them to success.

SYSTEM BASED ON TRUST

The National Education Board sets the broad curriculum. Districts and schools, in turn, have the flexibility to adapt the same for their own requirements. The school and the parents place a lot of trust and confidence in the teachers. The teachers are fully empowered to research, plan and teach their classes to best fit their children’s learning needs. This is possible because teachers undergo rigorous education, training and assessment. The Education Department accepts just 10% of all primary education applicants. Thus, all the teachers who pass out of the programme are highly qualified and respected. Classes are made up of less than 20 students, and in primary school, the child has the same teacher for at least three years. So, the teacher has a very good understanding of the child’s personality and abilities.

JOY OF LEARNING

A learner-centric system, combined with positive reinforcement, the Finnish education system aims to equip children with the necessary academic and life skills to prepare them for a future of success and independence. But what is it that makes learning joyful? Let’s take a look.

LEARNER-CENTRIC SYSTEM

In a traditional classroom elsewhere, the teacher stands in front of the class lecturing while the children are expected to listen, take notes and do exercises. In the Finnish system, the teacher acts as a guide, leading the children through the learning process. Once a topic is introduced, children are free to explore and learn on their own or in groups. They present what they have learnt in the way they choose — a PowerPoint presentation, movie, write-up and so on. Science classes are very hands-on with lots of exploration outdoors and in the lab. As we walked through the classrooms, we saw students sitting in groups and collaborating, while teachers were walking around guiding them. The goal is to teach children how to learn rather than to feed them with content.

TECHNOLOGY IN THE CLASSROOM

A lot of emphasis is placed on the integration of technology in the classroom. In every class, we saw children using their mobiles or tablets to research, respond to questions and take notes. However, this poses its own challenges for teachers, as these gadgets sometimes become tools of distraction.

ASSESSMENT AND POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT

There is more emphasis on learning than tests. The goal of feedback is to point out areas for improvement and not to criticise the child. Children are assessed by their teachers and peers. We walked into an eighth-grade class just as a boy was finishing his book presentation and watched as the children made their assessments.

PHENOMENON-BASED LEARNING

This is a unique concept in which at least once a year, for an extended period (a week or more), students take a ‘theme’ break from their regular classes. A theme or ‘phenomenon’ is chosen and children get to explore this topic in an inter-disciplinary way across all subjects. During our visit, we saw grade seven students engaged in a phenomenon week, which focussed on the topic ‘grit’. It is an abstract concept that requires children to introspect to build resilience and determination. In the art class, self-portraits of children were pasted on the walls. We watched the children create booklets in black and silver to showcase their interests. In the technology class, children were writing about their own strengths.

RELIGION AND ETHICS

Very much a part of the curriculum, religion and ethics are taught to secondary school students throughout their three-year programme. The children are exposed to religious tenets, but are equally encouraged to analyse and develop their own perspectives.

LIFE SKILLS

Children are not just trained in academics. Both boys and girls are taught how to cook, do laundry, sew and knit, and do carpentry. They are also given lessons in home finance and budgeting. We even got to observe an interesting class on building concentration. These are essential skills that help children grow into independent and successful adults.

ART AND MUSIC

These are very much a part of the curriculum. As we sat in the school auditorium, we couldn’t help but overhear the band playing next door. The art classes we observed laid great emphasis on creativity and freedom of expression.

MANY BREAKS BETWEEN CLASSES

For every 45 minutes of a class, the children get a 15-minute break to allow them to move around and be refreshed before the next period. This helps children refocus and be more attentive during class. A lot of these practices work well in an environment where the student–teacher ratio is very low; the teachers are highly trained and there is no dearth of resources. But adapting these best practices to a very different Indian environment has its set of challenges. However, there are many things you can do as a parent in your own home to make learning joyful. Schools too can explore ways to support parents in encouraging children towards joyful learning and joyful outcomes. As we all know, when schools and parents work together, the child benefits greatly!

6 Step Guide To Helping Your Child Become A Successful Learner

MAKE LEARNING JOYFUL

As the old Finnish saying goes: ‘What you learn without joy, you forget without grief.’ Learning is not always about tests and exams. Give your child the freedom to explore, experiment, discover and learn. In Finnish schools, children are sent out into the woods surrounding their schools with a magnifying glass in hand to search for insects, make observations and share what they learnt with the rest of the class. Today, with the proliferation of the Internet, online classes and workshops for children, the opportunities to learn are endless. While mobiles and computers are good tools of learning, ensure you set and enforce limits and terms of usage.

LET CHILDREN BE CHILDREN

Children love to play and jump around. Switch off those TVs and gadgets, and get your child to play outdoors. Plan play dates with other children and encourage free play. Have you ever watched a group of five-year-olds play together – laughing, fighting and deal-making? Children learn a lot about socialisation, collaboration and empathy while playing with friends.

GIVE POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT

Encourage your child by praising her effort and providing constructive feedback. Let the child self-assess her work and find ways to improve. Let us understand this through a small exercise:

Your child is trying to draw a flower by looking at a photograph. At the first attempt, it may just be a bunch of ovals. Instead of simply saying ‘Nice’ or ‘This doesn't look like a flower’, ask your child what she thinks of her drawing and what is different between her drawing and the photo. This will help your child improve her observation skills. Now, repeat the exercise. It may take a few tries, but in the end, both you and your child will be surprised by the results.

TRUST AND RESPECT YOUR CHILD’S TEACHER

Remember, your child is probably one among 100 other students the teacher deals with every day. Teachers too are human. It is, therefore, your responsibility, as a parent, to reach out and work together with your child’s teacher in a positive way to support your child. If your child is struggling, say in Maths, talk to his teacher to understand what the problem is and ask for her suggestions to support your child.

INVEST IN YOUR CHILD’S PASSIONS

Every child need not be an engineer or a doctor. Understand your child’s interests and expose your child to various career opportunities in her field of interest. Let’s say your child is interested in art. The opportunities for her are endless — she can become a web designer, graphic artist, fashion designer, interior decorator or an artist, to name a few. Help her develop her skills and unlock her creativity.

INVOLVE YOUR CHILD WITH IN-HOME ACTIVITIES

As you go about your daily chores, be it cooking or cleaning, get your child involved. Found a loose button on your child’s shirt? Teach him how to sew it back on. Shop with him for groceries and let him understand the costs incurred for your purchases.

So, from now on, start with the little things you can do to make learning joyful for your child. Build trust in your child’s teachers and work together to ensure success for your child. Learn together and grow together! After all, joy of learning indeed leads to the joy of outcome!

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