• Monday, May 27, 2024
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Finnish but certainly not finished


Michel de Montaigne once remarked, “It should be noted that children at play are not playing about; their games should be seen as their most serious-minded activity.”

I believe now more than ever that our educational system needs a complete overhaul if we desire to create a better and more functional society. The school curriculum is completely outdated, ineffective and altogether moribund, if I may use that term. If we leave it as it is, it will continue to lead us nowhere. It’s difficult to decipher the purpose it’s supposed to serve. What evidence do we have that it’s working? Is our society the better for it or the Nigerian child better equipped by it?

The World Happiness Report of 2019 ranked 156 countries and that tiny Scandinavian nation, Finland, took the top spot for the second consecutive year. Several factors were used, including generosity, life expectancy and freedom. The Legatum Institute’s Prosperity Index has also, for many years, ranked Finland amongst the most peaceful countries on earth, in addition to it having the highest quality of life. Lucky, aren’t they? Well, if you agreed with that, you would be wrong. Luck has absolutely nothing to do with it. They’re simply enjoying the fruits of very intentional, well thought out policies, implemented with scientific precision. It may interest you to know that they achieved all this, even without having to first establish a Ministry of Happiness or by spending scarce resources to erect statues of foreign leaders, unlike what transpired in one of our states, where civil servants were being owed months of unpaid salaries. A hundred Ministries of Happiness can never in a million years succeed in bringing even the faintest of smiles to the face of a hungry man. All we ask is for our leaders to demonstrate good leadership by doing the right thing. That’s all. And you know what? This is often far easier than the curious, grand projects they embark on which never take us anywhere.

Living in a society like ours, at least for the last twenty five years now, where parents proudly boast to friends and foe alike, that their child has begun school at the age of two, it fascinates me to learn of a society where children don’t enrol at school till the age of seven; where senseless cramming is totally discouraged and the pupils are not subjected to any standardized test until they reach the age of sixteen. Despite this, the heavens haven’t fallen and in fact the society is more prosperous now than most of us can possibly imagine.

For the last two decades, Finland has generally been regarded as the country with the best education system in the world. And lest I forget, schooling there is essentially free; meaning, such an accolade has not been earned because they have the most expensive private schools. Anything but. Furthermore, various studies discovered that the gap between its strongest and weakest students is the narrowest in any country’s educational system and quite instructively, this has been achieved in a system where collaboration has been adopted to displace competition amongst pupils. One reason given for its success is that all students of the same age group, study in the same class. So no, you’re not likely to find nine-year olds grouped in the same class as eleven-year olds, just so some parents can brag about how clever their child is. Coming from a British system myself, where schools are strict about age parity in the classroom, I’ve never quite understood why so many Nigerian parents are in such a hurry to rush their children through school. Some jump two classes! I honestly believe it’s a disservice to the child. Let sixteen-year olds discuss what sixteen-year olds will naturally discuss when they are together, but why should I put my fourteen-year-old in a situation where she is exposed to that? She has plenty of time for that and by that time, she will hopefully be mature enough to stand her own in the conversation, without being unduly influenced. That has always been my view, but Hey! What do I know?

While conducting research for my Masters in Professional Ethics final project, which I titled The Moral Foundation of Education, I discovered several more interesting facts about the Finnish education which has caused it to stand out. First, I read that the “stated aim of Finnish primary education is to promote ethical responsibility and equality whilst promoting the basis of skills and knowledge required for development in later life.” So why would the people and the leaders they produce, not be fairer and less self-centred? Two, “healthcare, a daily meal, textbooks and other materials are all provided free, as is travel to and from school if the journey exceeds 5 km each way.” Again, I ask you, why will the people not jealously protect a system and diligently serve a nation that does so much for them? Finland’s top position in some of the global indexes mentioned earlier is not a mere coincidence, but is a direct result of the ethos which guides their educational system and their life in general.

Speaking directly to the quote by Montaigne with which I opened up today’s discussion, another thing which the Fins do differently in schools which they ascribe much of their success as a society to, is that they incorporate ‘play’ into learning. It’s an integral part of the school day because it is well understood that while playing, children learn without even being conscious of the fact that they’re learning. The lessons they learn from this form of learning, which is experiential, is also far more likely to endure and guide their reasoning. Like the Director of a Finnish public Kindergarten once said in an interview, “It’s not a natural way for a child to learn when the teacher says, ‘Take this pencil and sit still.’ ” Going by this, playing, which some of us think is an utter waste of time, isn’t, after all. Perhaps to ensure he drills his point home, he concluded the interview by quoting an old Finnish saying which goes like this, “those things you learn without joy, you will forget easily”.

As a testimony to their educational system, evidenced by the sort of society it has and continues to successfully produce, be it politically, economically, concerning the people’s welfare, the sense of patriotism and much more, Aki Holopainen, the Headmaster of a Finnish secondary school had this to say, “Finnish young people are smart, society-oriented, gregarious and family-cantered. Parents are interested in their schooling and support it; cooperation with families is good. As I see it, our schools are producing young people who are not only capable but also mentally strong and well-balanced and who have a lot to offer the world”. So, do you still wonder why they’re not just the happiest people in the world, but using all globally recognized measurements, are amongst the most prosperous? When a system cultivates in you a desire to see your country prosper but then goes further to deliberately ingrain the right mindset in you, provide you with the right skills and creates an enabling environment to make this a reality, there will always be plenty of reasons for you to be happy.

Changing the nation…one mind at a time