Lessons we can take from the Finnish education system to improve our Kenyan education system


Date Posted: 1/12/2019 3:21:27 PM

Posted By: SilviaMbugua  Membership Level: Silver  Total Points: 327

The Finnish education system has managed to rank among the highest in its students’ performance in Math and Sciences in comparison to other countries over the past few years. They noticed a flaw in their system and adopted several favorable education reforms that many other countries should learn and try to implement because clearly they are doing something right. So what lessons can the Kenyan system learn from Finland? First and most important is that less is more. Here is a breakdown of that and other lessons:
1.Finnish students and teachers spend less time in school and class.
•The typical Finnish school day begins at 9.00am-9.45am and ends at 2pm-2.45pm. These time schedules reduce student stress especially in the busy morning rush-hours. Compared to our Kenyan schools, the typical class or school day begins at 7am and for some boarding schools as early as 5am. The Finnish system emphasizes on their students minds being well rested and ready for learning hence the late starting times.
•Classes also end early to reduce student fatigue so both teachers and students can participate in other extra-curricular after class activities and head home early enough. This is the complete opposite of the Kenyan system where by students learn up to as late as 5pm and even 7pm for boarding schools. Pupils in higher classes have virtually no time to participate in extra-curricular activities and are dead tired at the end of the day.
•Finnish students are also given adequate breaks and recess times in between lessons to rest and process what they have learnt while Kenyan teachers will go as far as to intrude students Physical Education time, as though exercise is not essential for a healthy alert brain.
•Finnish school holidays are longer than most schools in the world to give students ample time to participate in

other activities outside school and most importantly, to play. The old adage all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy comes into play here. In contrast to Kenya, before the ministry intervened, candidate students had their holidays reduced significantly for holiday tuition programs. At least the ministry is taking a step in the right direction.
•Finnish students start school at age seven. This prime age set gives them plenty of time to be naturally what they are; kids. Here in Kenya some parents enroll their children into schools as early as three years old in an attempt to transfer parental responsibilities to teachers. Enrolling kids into school that early could hinder their brain development and some take ages to catch up with their peers who might have not been as affected.
2.Finnish students have less schoolwork and assignments.
•Finnish teachers do not give their students bulky assignments that completely occupy their free time. Their policy is less is more. It is actually more motivating for students to do work that won’t wear them out after a long day of classes. Whereas Kenyan teachers lump piles of homework on their students who end up either not doing the work or copying from their classmates.
•The rate at which Finnish teachers cover their syllabus does not warrant bulky home and classwork. Finnish teachers are not in a hurry to cram in many topics within a short time in the name of syllabus coverage. Each teacher dictates how fast or slow their class covers the syllabus so as to offer a more holistic coverage. They are not racing against deadlines unlike our Kenyan teachers who will clear the syllabus in the earliest time possible. The reason given is to have ample time for revision but one would not need that much revision time had the students understood what they were taught the first time around.
•In the Finnish system students therefore have more time to digest and not just cram the contents of their syllabus. Teachers also have plenty of time to work on slower students as no one is left behind.
3.Finnish schools have fewer students per school and per class.
•Few students in classes might be a tall order for the Kenyan public schools but even the private schools (and well-funded public secondary schools) that have resources for expansion still have students beyond their capacity. It is a game of bring in more students and make more money. The individual connections students have with their teachers is lessened when a teacher has too many students to keep tabs on.
•The Finnish system has schools and classes with fewer students to reduce workload of teachers and foster a more personal relationship between them. It is easier for teachers to spot and work on students with learning disabilities or conditions like ADHD which require different tailored learning styles.
•The Finnish system therefore has a more customized learning style for each student rather than the almost industrial methods used in Kenya. It is as if students are goods being subjected to the same manufacturing process irrespective of their different needs. Their quality assessed at the very end. Those that do not pass the necessary tests are damaged goods and those that do move on to the next stage in the process. That is a dangerously impersonal system.
•Another key point to note is that there is no private tutor culture in Finland. The teachers have ample flexibility to work with their students and achieve results without needing excess private tutoring services. This is a wake-up call to those parents who spend thousands of shillings on private tutors for children already attending private schools. Kenyan parents flock their students into schools with a history of good performance and gradually if they do not adjust, those schools’ performances deteriorate over time.
4.The Finnish system encourages learning not cramming.
•For the Finnish learning is an easy-going process that should not be rushed or pressured. They have no standardized tests apart from only one optional test at upper-secondary school known as the National Matriculation Exam. They do not do regional or national competitions or have a rank obsessed school system. Their end goal is for students to learn something and enjoy the process rather than dread it.
•It is a system free of the enslaving tests that force both students and teachers to focus solely on passing exams. Teachers have the autonomy of implementing their own none standardized tests and grading systems. This allows them to have an accurate view of what students have learnt not how well students can pass an exam.
•The Finnish system does not do the grave mistake of pointing fingers at teachers to blame for bad performance. That type of pressure often prompts teachers to prepare students for tests rather than actually teach relevant skills and content. Parents have a trusting relationship with their teachers because they are actually the best at what they do as will be explained later, hence no unwarranted blame befalls them.
•In comparison to our Kenyan system, we are obsessed with competition and we live and breathe ranks. From inter-classes ranking, to regional mock exams, to national exams; we are all about who is the highest ranked. We became so obsessed with this competition culture till teachers and students both participated in cheating on national exams, forcing the ministry to enforce strict measures in an attempt to quash the vice.
•Exams are everything to a Kenyan student and they will take the shortest route possible to succeed, either by cramming or cheating. The immense emphasis placed on these papers gave rise to cases of students becoming depressed, teachers heavily canning students for failing papers and student suicides. Sadly for these students, after enduring all those school years, they enter the job market having acquired no relevant skills or developed critical/ outside the box thinking. Their creativity had been killed a bit too early when they learnt the art of cramming; their childhood wonder lost and forced to succumb to a rigid system.
5.The Finnish system is a system that emphasizes equity above all.
•Over 70% of Finnish students attend public schools and there will be minimal differences in quality between the schools. A student in the urban areas of Finland and one in the rural areas will have access to the same quality of facilities and services. Each school offers free lunches, counseling and healthcare services for students to reduce expenses for struggling parents. This type of system gives students from all backgrounds equal opportunities for learning and career development.
•In contrast to Kenya, there’s a big gap in the quality of schools and their services. Most public schools are overcrowded or simply do not have access to the facilities easily acquired by other wealthier schools. Although the ministry tried to solve this gap by considering geographical regions in selection of national schools, it does not negate the fact that some children received a lower quality education in comparison to their privileged peers.
6.Finland gives at most respect and trust to the teaching profession.
•Teachers in Finland earn high salaries because its pool of professionals deserve the respect and trust given to them. Their teaching programs are very selective and have an intense training and assessment processes. One becomes a teacher only after acquiring a masters not just a degree. Finnish parents know and trust that the teachers are the best at what they do.
•Kenya is a different creature this area. There are constant teacher’s strikes mapping all the way to the university as many working in the public schools are paid very little for their tireless work. There is little motivation for them to carry out their duties in comparison to their well-paid peers in private schools. This disparity breeds gaps in the quality of education that different schools offer, a disadvantage to the struggling students.
7.Finnish teachers are there for the long haul: to grow with their students.
•Finnish teachers teach the same students for over five years and rarely will students have their teacher changed. This policy allows teachers to adopt a more personal approach with their students. The teachers can easily keep track of students’ progress and are in a better position to monitor any behavioral or learning problems in their students. The students also get more comfortable and open to their teachers as there is a sense of consistency and familiarity.
•Kenyan teachers on the other hand change frequently and it is a game of passing on the students and their issues to the next teacher. The cycle repeats itself until the particular class does its national exams. This process offers no opportunities for teachers to grow with their students and the slower learners lag behind since nobody is paying enough attention or monitoring their progress. Behavioral and learning problems also go undetected as the teachers are just not that invested in their students’ welfare. Some parents bypass this by accessing private tutors but not all can afford the service which should not be necessary in the first place.
As the ministry of education pushes for the new 2-6-6-3 education system it should take heavy notes from the Finnish system to implement education reforms that are actually game changers. Finland should be our role model even if it is aiming for the stars. Their methods are revolutionary and their results are evident. We should not run schools like we run corporations with capitalist thinking. Hopefully, the errors of the 8-4-4 system will remain in the past especially the issue of equality in the quality of education from different schools.

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