What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart?
The Wall Street Journal, page W1, FEBRUARY 29, 2008
Finland’s teens score extraordinarily high on an international test. American educators are trying to figure out why.
By ELLEN GAMERMAN
Here’s Francesca’s summary
According to PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), the main reasons of Finnish students’ brightness is their school organisation, the children’s behaviour and the teachers ‘ class management and preparation. Finnish teachers, however, point out that the secret is their kids’ extra playtime.
Finnish kids don’t start school until the age of 7, and have very little homework; in this way they have a relaxed and back to basics approach with school.
Moreover, they can choose the school to attend at the age of 15 and, as universities are totally free, there’s no competition to enter and less pressure than elsewhere.
Students become also good readers, as the state gives every newborn a gift pack including a picture book, and libraries are almost everywhere; and as Finnish is not a widely spoken language, they usually read books in English not to have to wait for the translations.
English is well spoken in Finland, and kids grow up watching subtitled English TV shows, which are rarely dubbed.
Another good thing to point out is the relationship between students and teachers, who call each others by name.
Teachers are qualified and well trained, but not authoritarian: they create lessons to fit the students’needs, putting more efforts on the weakest while the bright ones help the average ones without harming their own progress.
Finally, children are very responsible; they do a lot without adults hovering around in the background, becoming more self reliant.
What Makes Italian Kids So Laggard?
“The whole world is talking about Finnish kids”, said my physics colleague. They really make us proud of being European! What about here in Italy? The opposite: we are the laggards! Still, according to PISA 2006 tests, Italian primary children do well in international comparisons. My mother (80) was so enthusiastic at the my 9-year-old grandson (her great-grandson) Leo’s new maths, that she dreamed of enrolling at a science faculty in her next life, in spite of totally disliking the subject as a schoolgirl (she was taught by nuns).
The trouble starts at junior secondary school even if Italian teachers are overqualified (maybe for children who need what was needed 40 years ago, someone might add).
Here’s the situation:
“Headache”: between 14 and 19.
Experts say that we have failed to adapt sufficiently to the demands of a world based on complex and sophisticated contemporary knowledge.
The reason/s? I don’t know! The teachers’ average age in our lyceum is over 50. No new blood is available before 2012. Our young, but conservative minister of education has been ordered to cut because we have to stay within the euro. She started from primary school. Vacancies won’t be filled by young skilled teachers. The generation gap is growning. And yet our schoolchildren love us (the aunts and the grandmothers of the school community). But are they learning? They need us like lion cubs need the older lion-sitting females while their mothers are out hunting. They don’t learn what we would, what they should, they are as awkward and as ill-mannered as they can be and yet they are ours. We tell them our tales We take them off the street.
Bullying? I may be mistaken but there is not such thing as real bullying in Italian schools. In my opinion Italian schools are very safe places in comparison with what I saw around the world.
In our school we feel lucky because we have broadband, 2 professional computers and about 45 Internet terminals for almost 1200 students. The teaching week is long (6 days). The hours are not long but sort of compressed. How difficult it is to fit an exchange or a workshop, even a talk in our time table!
How many students per class? Max 30
Homework? Less and less homework and yet less and less playing/ reading/ family time. Why?
I hope our students will join the discussion.