A new global league table, produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit for Pearson, has found that Finland has the best education schools in the world. For Finland, this achievement is no fluke. Since it implemented huge education reforms 40 years ago, the country’s school system has consistently come in at the top of the international rankings for best education schools.
To the Western world, Finland’s education system might seem unorthodox.
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. Almost 70 percent of students go to college – the highest rate in Europe. The school system is 100% state funded. There is therefore in Finland technically no reason for a learner not to enjoy an excellent education. As part of its quest to produce best education schools, all teachers in Finland must have a masters degree. Teachers are given the same status as doctors and lawyers.
Another country worth mentioning when best education schools are discussed, is China. It has followed Finland’s lead and is also in the process of moving away from an exam-based system.
In 1985, Shanghai began a process of reform and created exams that test the application of real-life skills.
Despite the reforms, exams however still exist. Most students attend weekend “cram schools” to ensure that they pass. This comes in addition to nightly homework and extracurricular activities – making the life of a Chinese student overwhelming.
Germany is widely acknowledged as one of the most developed countries in the world. It is thus expected of them to boast some of the best education schools, globally.
Yet, you might find the way they regard education, surprising. Contrary to stereotypes, most German parents are the opposite of strict. They place a high value on independence and responsibility.
For example: They don’t push reading. Kindergartens don’t emphasize academics. In fact parents are discouraged to teach their children to read. Kindergarten is a time for play and social learning. But even in first grade, academics aren’t pushed very hard. A half-day of instruction is interrupted by two protracted outdoor recesses. This relaxed approach does however not mean a poor education: German 15-year-olds perform well above the international average when it comes to reading, math and science.
Meanwhile the biggest ever global school rankings were published recently, with African countries right at the bottom. Ghana came stone last, with South Africa second last.
Jonathan Jansen, vice-chancellor of the University of the Free State, recently had the following to say on social media regarding best education schools in South Africa: “The top schools in our country are those who turn the few resources they have into outstanding academic results. Those who produce top results with the best resources available are supposed to do well.”
It would be interesting to know whether Finland’s thinking features in South African education leaders’ future plans.