By: Dr. Debbie Rhea, 2013
The last time I wrote was when I returned from Finland where I learned about how the U.S. might learn from the educational successes of their country. One of the individuals who helped to create the success that they have today is Dr. Pasi Sahlberg. He is the Director General of CIMO (National Center for International Mobility and Cooperation). This position affords him the ability to promote internationalization and tolerance, creativity, and global ethics in the Finnish society through mobility and institutional cooperation in education, culture, youth, and sport. He not only promotes educational changes in Finland, but also across the globe. His most recent book entitled, “Finnish Lessons” has been instrumental in changing the way people think about education globally.
As a result of my visit to Finland, I have been able to invite Dr. Sahlberg to TCU in Fort Worth as our Kinesiology Green Chair Lecturer this spring. He has agreed to be here this next week, March 19-21 to talk about four very important topics that I believe, as a result of my intensive observations in Finland, have led to their educational successes. I do believe these four issues are pivotal to the kind of change we need in the U.S. They are ethics, restructuring the school day, more physical education and recess per day, and removal of standardized tests. I will cover what each topic area includes but will feature each topic in separate blogs this week.
The first topic that Dr. Sahlberg will discuss this next week, ethics, will be focused on how it should look in the schools. Finland has introduced it as a separate content area in their schools. I feel that we should focus on ethics similarly in our schools. In order to do this, we would have to see ethics as a content area. Public schools would need to identify which content areas would be represented in the K-8 curriculum (scope & sequence) and then decide how many hours per week would be dedicated to each of these content areas. For example, if a school district wants to stress reading, writing, math, science, music, art, physical education, ethics, and crafts in grades 1 and 2, then those content areas would receive a dedicated number of hours per week. As a student develops and matures, the types of content, the number of hours per content, and the variation in topics per content area would adjust. Ethics would stress lessons on personal responsibility, respect, kindness, patience, bullying, social media, etc. The lessons would only be 15-20 minutes per day, but would infuse the complete development of the child that is needed so desparately in our children today. We can’t watch children in everything they do. They have to know enough about right and wrong, good and bad, to be able to make some responsible decisions and feel good about making those decisions.
The 2nd topic that Pasi will discuss is restructuring the school day. The K-2 children only go to school for 4 1/2 hours in Finland and 6 hours for grades 3-6, while the U.S. children go to school for 7-8 hours daily no matter what age they are. The U.S. is pushing to extend the day that children go to school to be longer whereas the Finns continue to maintain shorter periods of time for the younger children. The Finns are beating us in reading, science, and math. Pasi will address our cultures and how we can make a difference with shorter days for our younger children.
The 3rd topic is more physical activity/recess in the schools. This is, to me, the easiest piece to implement in the public schools. In Finland, they structure their elementary day around 45 minute content lessons just like the U.S. One major difference exists between the two countries. The Finns then take a 15 minute recess outside before beginning another content session for 45 minutes. This happens every hour in Finland. 45 minute content followed by 15 minute recess throughout the day. We treat recess as a one time event, if that, and think that one 15 minute break is all children need. Adults forget what it’s like to sit in a chair for hours on end before getting to move around again. We forget that children will learn more when allowed to have more physical activity breaks. We have become so fixated on being better on tests, that we have compromised the essential part of our beings: movement. This has compromised our metabolism and our brain function. Dr. Salhberg will address different strengths of recess and physical activity in the schools.
The 4th topic is the removal of standardized tests. The Finns don’t take any standarized tests. They believe that children should have the flexibility to learn without pressure of standarized testing. Developmental evaluations are much more important to the Finns than standardized tests. They do not grade the children at all until the completion of the 5th grade. Until then, they send home a formal developmental evaulation for each child at the end of the fall and at the end of the spring semesters. Their semesters are equal to ours. They have the same summer breaks and similar holidays throughout the year as we do. Dr. Sahlberg will address assessments and what we should do differently if we’re going to be successful in the U.S.
I’ll address all of these topics in more detail in future blogs. Anyone who reads this blog and is able to come to the workshops & lecture next week is welcome. He will work with university faculty next Tuesday, March 19th on these topics and then K-12 leaders on Wednesday, March 20th. That evening he will address educational reform as an open lecture. For anyone interested in attending any of these workshops or the lecture, go to www.harrisresearch.tcu.edu for more information, Pasi’s bio, and the schedules for each event.