Finnish schools scrap tried and tested education method

24 March 2015 | By Hannah Byrne

Finnish schools scrap tried and tested education method

Finland has long set the bar for a successful education system. Perched at the top of international league tables for literacy and numeracy, only far eastern countries such as Singapore and China outperform the Nordic nation in the influential Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings.

Education experts and politicians from around the world have made trips to Helsinki in the hope of identifying and replicating the secret of its success.

Which is why the world was surprised to hear that Finland is about to embark on one of the most radical education reform programmes ever undertaken by a nation state – scrapping traditional “teaching by subject” in favour of “teaching by topic”.

Liisa Pohjolainen, who is in charge of youth and adult education in Helsinki, said: “This is going to be a big change in education in Finland that we’re just beginning.” Helsinki is the capital city at the forefront of the reform programme.

Pasi Silander, the city’s development manager, added: “What we need now is a different kind of education to prepare people for working life. Young people use quite advanced computers. In the past the banks had lots of bank clerks totting up figures but now that has totally changed. We therefore have to make the changes in education that are necessary for industry and modern society.”

Subject-specific lessons – an hour of history in the morning, and an hour of geography in the afternoon – are already being phased out for 16-year-olds in Helsinki’s upper schools. They are being replaced by what they call “phenomenon” teaching – or teaching by topic. For example, a teenager studying a vocational course might take “cafeteria services” lessons, which would include elements of maths, languages (to help serve foreign customers), writing skills, and communication skills.

Whereas more academic pupils would be taught cross-subject topics such as the European Union. This would merge elements of economics, history (of the countries involved), languages, and geography.

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