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A comparison between the education systems in Spain and Finland

16 January, 2017

The other day I saw a documentary about education in Finland. It made me reflect a lot upon the traditional method of education that we have been accustomed to for such a long time.

Experts in education evaluated global education in an age in which Finland and Spain were hand in hand in last place in the rankings. Finland decided to do something about this. They were innovative about using new ideas that encouraged good development of education and teaching.

Today, Finland is number 1 in the list of education in the West. It sands in 5th place when compared to all the countries in the world, below oriental countries like South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong ordered respectively. Spain lies bottom of the so called “developed countries”.
“There is no homework” replies a Finnish teacher with respect to the key to the success of Finnish education. They decided to reduce the amount of work that their students had to do outside of school. Seriously, the reduction of work is the secret to a country at the peak of education? Although I remember my last conversation with some Spanish mothers speaking of the amount of homework that their children had to do at home. It seemed to be a competition among teachers to see who could set the most homework. And among piles and piles of homework you can find students head in hands, panting, deciding between their maths, languages, science or technology homework. I realised that there is no motivation or desire to learn, just an obligation. And if you don’t do it, they suspend you. Education should be much more than that.

Children and teenagers in Finland do between 10 and 20 minutes of tasks at home. “Children have a lot of things that they do after school instead. Being together, being with family, doing sport, playing music, reading” added the Director of a Finnish school. “The brain has to relax. If the brain is constantly working you eventually stop learning” he added finally.

Finland has the shortest school day and school year in the western world and even still it is number one in quality of education. This failing in our teaching methods is something that we should be taking seriously.

What surprised me most in the document was the criticism by Finnish families with respect to the standard exams. Finland doesn’t have exams. “If one is taught how to pass exams, one will not be taught anything” said a Finnish teacher. There in lies the key to the question. Exams. The incredible obsession of teachers with exams. Exams at the end of each topic, trimestral exams, semester exams, finals, and that’s without mentioning the feared surprise exams. There is an incredible obsession of teaching you to memorise for exams before encouraging you to use your creativity, abilities and skills. This obsession of getting better results than other schools, to publicise the names of the students that get the best marks. Seriously, is that us? Numbers? I remember when I studied a bachelor’s degree. For two years I was given the exact material for the exams. Although I remember the phrase of some teachers (more than one): “we skip this part” and inside I though: “great, less material for us to study”. Now I think about it and it seems horrifying.

In Finland they try to teach everything possible so that you can use your brain in the best way possible. They try to teach them to think by themselves and to be an important part of what they are learning, and they try to teach them to be happy. They are taught to be themselves, they empower their students, and they encourage creativity, independence, and autonomy. They work with the contextual environment because the “rich and poor” go to the same school, without discrimination, because in Finland it is illegal to open a school and charge for it. And not only that, but they value far more what the students do when they leave school, promoting the idea that they are with other children, with their families, reading, or whatever but not as an obligation, as a way self learning and a discovery of one’s own abilities, offering an education that values those both inside and outside of the classrooms.

And while I saw this documentary and thought: would it be possible to adopt this type of education in Spain? Would Spain reach first place in the rankings of the quality of education if they did? Why do we follow the traditional education programme? Why is there so much failure in the education sector in Spain?

I believe that the response resides in focusing more on the students/people and not as much on the position of the school after the official exams.

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