Kristoffer Kohl, the author of this guest post, is a former classroom teacher and current CTQ staff member. This week, he’s traveling in Finland, along with CTQ teacher leader Dave Orphal, who’s been reflecting on the trip on his own transformED blog.

While touring a series of schools in Finland with a group of education professionals from the U.S., I can’t help but recognize the severe divide between the countries’ respective approaches to teaching and learning. In the truest sense of the word, education is valued as an investment in Finland’s future, which, after talking with several groups of students, I can say looks brighter than ever.

As Americans prepare to vote on two different visions for the future, it seemed appropriate to capture some initial insight on the Finnish education system through the lens of five popular U.S. presidential election memes*.

Big Bird

  • While the U.S. debates less-than-a-rounding-error of funding that provides high-quality educational programming nationwide, the Finns equip every student with high-quality meals, books, technology, transportation, early-childhood education, and a range of additional supports designed to ensure equal opportunity and excellence (not an either/or scenario).
  • Finland’s social safety net guarantees all children the right to free health care and government-subsidized day care until they begin primary school at age seven. Seventy-five percent of three- to five-year-olds are in daycare, with more than 96 percent of children attending tuition-free preschool at the age of six. For the same age group in the U.S., preschool enrollment hovers consistently around 55 percent.
  • Backed by a similar decree from the U.N., access to the Internet is considered a human right in Finland.

You Didn’t Build That

  • The U.S. may not have built an education system that’s as comprehensive and equitable as Finland’s, but we have certainly designed the core elements of their system via expensive R&D efforts in the States—which we have also carried out in small pockets across the country. Case in point: The wraparound social services that garner attention for Harlem Children’s Zone are the norm here in Finland.
  • The Finns are content to let us do the messy work of experimenting, but they are masters of identifying the practices and structures that enable students and teachers to be successful. Most important, they trust teachers with implementation expertise, which we’ll get to later (“I think we all love teachers”).
  • Baseball may have originated in America, but Finland was smart enough to co-opt it as their national pastime and update the rules to create a quicker, more efficient game than the snooze-fest we only watch during October. Rather than four bad pitches resulting in a walk, Finnish baseball allows just one pitch outside of the strike zone before a hitter is granted first base. They didn’t build it, but they did improve it.

Binders Full of Women

  • 86 percent of women in Finland (ages 25-64) work outside the home, compared to about 60 percent in the U.S (PDF). The high rate of working households leads to latchkey generations of children who are trusted by parents and schools alike to take care of themselves independently.
    This deep trust among Finns strengthens their social fabric and encourages intrinsic accountability and integrity.
  • Each gender must have at least 40 percent representation on all public boards, committees, and municipalities. In both the U.S. Senate and House of Representative, just 17 percent of representatives are women, meaning that men have six times the political power as women.
  • Finland was the first country to grant women both the vote and the opportunity to run for office.

Horses and Bayonets

  • Finnish students may have fewer years of formal education at a young age, but only because the country has realized how children “learn to learn” through organized play and socialization. Perhaps as important, seven-year-olds are so eager to enter school and receive books, backpacks, and other supplies, that they enter formal education as eager, engaged, and mature learners.
  • Finland suffers from a severe shortage of abacuses (abaci?), but there are SmartBoards everywhere.
  • I have not seen nearly enough convertibles and surfboards for a nation with beautiful coastlines. However, Finland boasts 2.2 million saunas, shared by a population of 5.5 million (seriously).

(Do) We All Love Teachers (?)

The only thing the Twittersphere loved nearly as much as “horses and bayonet” was Bob Schieffer’s “I think we all love teachers” comment before closing arguments on Monday evening. Nothing says “we love teachers” more than a lukewarm endorsement as the final (and only) word on the profession in the last of three presidential debates.

I’m no Rico Suave, but I’m fairly certain that we have more affectionate ways of demonstrating our love. Who needs Cupid when unreliable test score data is published on the front page of newspapers?

In Finland, admiration for the profession is expressed by making teaching one of the most difficult fields to enter. Just under 7 percent of those who apply to teacher education programs are accepted. Teaching is recognized as complex, rewarding, and noble work that attracts the country’s best and brightest. But then they insist on really good teacher education for everyone before they enter the profession. I am a Teach for America alum—and there is no Teach for Finland. I don’t think they would consider it.

When Finns are asked what profession they want their life partner to be a member of, teaching is number one on the list. The Finns love teachers—and its policymakers do, too.

Want to demonstrate your deep commitment to teachers here in the U.S.? Become a fairy godparent. I can’t think of a better way to show how much you appreciate the challenging and important work they do to build a more promising future.

#Binders #horses/bayonets #BigBird

*Mentioning these memes in no way signals an endorsement of either candidate. We just enjoy the memes for their own sake.

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