Jessica: It is 6:45AM and we are about to walk up to the home of Ada Okany. She is a 15-year-old student who lives in Helsinki, and we are going to follow her for the day to see what it is like to go to school in Finland.
Ada’s room is over there, right?
Ada: Good morning!
Jessica: Good morning! Ready for school today?
Ada: Yes. My first class starts at 8:10 in the morning and it’s hand texture, and I’m making a dress for myself for graduation.
Jessica: It is what we would call home economics. In Finland, classes like these are just as important as math or science. In fact, after grade 9, students choose whether to continue their general academics or go to a vocational school offering hands-on classes like this one. Some say this option is one of the reasons 95% of students in Finland stay in school after their required basic education ends in grade 9.
Ada: I like math class because I’m good at math. I really get it. I learn quick and it’s fun.
Jessica: Learning here is collaborative, not competitive. In fact, there are no honors or college level classes in Finland. The best and worst students must learn together.
Ada: As a group, the teacher helps everyone of us and even sometimes a student will help another student. If I know something another doesn’t, I will show her because we understand each other more better than adults understand us, so it’s easier for me to teach my friend than a teacher to teach my friend.
Jessica: The 15-minute break between classes is an excuse to play cards. Experts say the atmosphere in most Finnish schools is relaxed, helping to make it a place where students want to be.
Ada: After math comes English 11 o’clock AM. In Finland, English is a really hard language and some people don’t know any words.
Jessica: Here, it is all about teamwork and student-centered learning. The students break into small groups right away and the teacher lets the students correct each other.
All Finnish schools serve free meals to their students. The idea is that schools are supposed to take care of their students overall well being, that is why it is not unusual for some schools to have doctors or even dentists.
Ada: It’s called macaronicald. It has macaroni and meat.
Jessica: Generally, do you like the school lunches?
Ada: Well, it depends.
Jessica: So, is this good or bad?
Jessica: Students in Finland perform really well in math reading and science when compared to other countries. Why do you think that is?
Ada: I don’t know.
Jessica: You don’t know. Does anyone know?
Ada: No idea.
Jessica: Do you guys think maybe you are naturally smart?
Jessica: After lunch, Ada only has two more classes, biology and civics.
Finnish students actually spend fewer hours in class every week than any country in the developed world. They don’t take many tests. When they do, it is not fill in the blank or multiple choice.
This is Ada’s civics test that she she is about to take. As you can see it is all essays. There is not one multiple choice.
It is on the international tests where Finland continues to out-perform other countries. Many say it is because of the teachers.
How much freedom do teachers have here?
“Very much freedom. I don’t check their plans. We don’t have an inspection system here. If I go to a classroom, I don’t know what’s going on because I trust them that they’re doing well.
Jessica: Finnish teachers must earn a five year masters degree that includes one year in a classroom, getting feedback from a supervisor. And the profession is one of the hardest to get into. Only 1 in every 10 applicants is accepted for a teaching masters. It is also one of the most respected compared to politicians, doctors, businessmen and scientists. Ada and her principal ranked teachers above them all.
Ada: Last one would be businessmen.
Ada: It’s my own opinion. Businessmen have business and money but, to me, nothing else. To me, I don’t see anything. Why should they be so respected because they have money and own business. But teachers are really respected because they get us to put off if we want to be teachers, businessmen, and they’re the ones who help us going further.
Jessica: And Ada’s school is not unique. There are no good or bad schools in Finland. In fact, no other country in the world has such little variation between schools.
So, what does this school not have? Well, there are no sports teams, marching bands and no dances. When students go to school, it is all about the academics.
Ada: Sports and school are all different. Usually when people have a hobby, they go and find a group or a good team. It’s not related together with school. It’s after school.
Jessica: Separate from school?
Ada: Yes. I only think about sports teams and cheerleading and all the American football.
Jessica: So, you think we are all cheerleaders and football players?
Ada: I think American schools are about sports and well, yeah, about sports, only I can think of American schools is sports.
Jessica: It is hard to compare Finland to the U.S. America has 300 million people. Finland just 5 million. But Finland’s education minister says the small population is the reason the schools there must succeed.
“In China, 5 million students are starting their studies at the university every year, and 5 million students are getting their degree from the university every year. So, it means that they have really, really big volumes there. Because we have only 5 million inhabitants in Finland, so that’s why it’s so important for us that we have to have very good quality in here. And for us, it’s important that we are building up the whole society. We can’t leave anyone.”
Jessica: Competing with China is not something Ada thinks about.
Ada: I do care and I’m interested but I don’t think about it so much because only thing that is important to me is that I get a job and I succeed in my life.
Jessica: And Ada says just like her day, success begins and ends with a good education.
Jessica Kumari, Channel One News.