05 June 2010

Finlandia rules!

Searching with envious eyes for clues.

"Teachers are highly trained (master’s degree is required), and they have a lot of freedom to design their own curricula. Teaching is a prestigious profession in Finland and draws from the best and the brightest. Part of this is institutional – pay teachers reasonably well, given them control and a nice work environment – and you get much higher quality teachers than we have in the US. The other part is the lack of incentives (relative to the US) for pursuing higher income professions in Finland, especially after adjusting for the highly progressive tax structure. Many people thinking of pursuing a teaching career in the US end up going into law, medicine, or business." - Freakonomics made this point in relation to the demographic shift of women (and other minorities) out of teaching and into medicine, law, or business. That was, well, it was pretty good for women as individuals and entirely understandable. But there does need to be a strong focus and incentive for individuals to enter the field of education somewhere.

"If the state of Texas were to care as much about teaching math and science as it does about high school football, it would produce the smartest students in the world. Finns are urheiluhullut (people crazy for sports), but it is entirely outside of schools, as are most other extracurricular activities. Just as the US made a huge mistake when it tied health insurance to employment, it made a huge mistake in tying extracurricular activities (mainly sports) to schools." - I assume this has also something to do with the way schools are arranged in the US (as local property alignments, which also creates massive educational quality disparities). But most of it has to do with being, uncreative, about how to organise schools and sports. Seems like lots of children have ample opportunity through churches or other social organisations to join athletic competitions. Pretty much every little league or pee-wee football or soccer league I can remember seeing or being in as a kid wasn't run by a school and there are, in a competitive environment, even "schools" that can have athletic prowess and development as a selling point (there are plenty of colleges that do this already by plowing money into sports).

One caveat to that is "concern" over a subject is not necessarily equal to "funding". It is probably true that diverting money from academics to athletics harms the academic result. It is probably not true that spending more money on academics will necessarily improve academic results (all else equal).

The diversity argument is indeed an issue. But it's the one we have the least capacity to control. Unless we want a closed society. I think there are benefits to a diverse, especially intellectually or culturally, population, but it does appear that there are costs to something like education. Though, with a population around 8% who are learning English (to speak) doesn't seem like it's a serious cost and impediment (especially given that large numbers of people who can speak English still have to learn how to write in it)

"says foreign students are told to ask for extra work if they find classes too easy." - This is pretty much how we handle "gifted students" already. It's a disgrace.

"At the Ymmersta School in a nearby Helsinki suburb, some first-grade students trudge to school through a stand of evergreens in near darkness. At lunch, they pick out their own meals, which all schools give free, and carry the trays to lunch tables. There is no Internet filter in the school library. They can walk in their socks during class, but at home even the very young are expected to lace up their own skates or put on their own skis." - Ahh the perils of an undisciplined people who are left unsupervised and to their own devices!
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