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The Nordic country of Finland has always been at the forefront of education reform. Finnish students don't have to worry about being tardy, homework or standardized tests. They get a 15-minute recess every hour and attend school fewer days than kids in most developed nations (not America). Since February 2015, students have not even had to learn cursive handwriting.
What's amazing is that despite these "lax" rules, Finnish students consistently outperform most of their peers in the Programme for International Student Assessment Tests (PISA). Created by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) it compares the global educational attainment of 15-year-old students across the world in Mathematics, Science and Reading.
While most countries would leave well enough alone, Finland's educators believe in order to succeed in the 21st century, students need to develop more integrated knowledge and skills about real world issues. Hence, from August 2016, Finnish students will get some reprieve from having to learn individual subjects like History, English, Math, etc. in isolation. Instead, the subjects will be taught intertwined as part of a broader topic.
All schools will be required to have at least one extended period of the new multi-disciplinary, phenomenon-based teaching and learning in their curricula. However, the educators will be given full freedom to decide on the length of the period. The law also stipulates that students be involved in the planning and assessment of the new curriculum.
Though the changes may sound radical to some, for the kids at Helsinki's Siltamaki Primary School, it is already a way of life. Here, students engage in what principal Anne-Mari Jaatinen describes as "joyful learning." This means playing chess in corridors or running around the hallways collecting information about different parts of Africa.
Things are as fun in the classroom. During English (a second language), students don't waste time trying to memorize verbs and nouns. Instead, they learn the language in an interactive manner with activities like matching weather conditions with the appropriate country on a map of continental Europe. This activity is not only fun, but also allows the kids to master English and Geography at the same time. Besides helping them learn, school principal Anne-Mari Jaatinen believes this approach allows for greater collaboration and communication between pupils and also helps them develop creative thinking skills!
As with any new idea, this one has its share of critics and fans. Some Finnish teachers believe that breaking away from the traditional method of teaching by subject will bring about a positive fundamental change in schools. Others are not so sure. They think it is the wrong way to improve teaching and learning in schools.
Only time will tell who is right. Meanwhile, the world will be watching closely to see if this reform further improves a literacy system that is already the envy of educators globally. If the phenomenon-based learning yields "phenomenal" results it may even be adapted by schools worldwide. This means you may no longer have to endure hour-long sessions of Math, Science and History!
Resources: Independent.co.uk, washingtonpost.com,the conversation.com