7 Take-Home Lessons from The World’s Best Schools

In Part 1 of this post, we looked at the ways that schools in Finland operate that make them some of the best in the world.

Some of these reasons include shorter contact hours, less homework, less tests, more independence and a stronger emphasis on non-academic skills.

Incorporating many of these factors into Australian schools would require Government intervention…

And/ or massive changes in the core functions of each school.

But there ARE lessons that can be learnt from Finland’s school success…

Lessons that parents can use to help their children thrive in their school years, and into the future.

1.Enable independence

The Finnish education system encourages independence among its students.

‘We try to let the children be independent and devise [their] play, decide what they want to do, and we as teachers help to facilitate those activities and how they will learn from them’, says teacher Erika Stewart. 

Independence encourages creativity and problem solving, and helps to develop important life skills and responsibility.

You can start to foster independence in your children from a very young age.

And one way is, somewhat counterintuitively, to let them make mistakes.

If you allow your child to make their own decisions, and take ownership of certain activities, they’ll likely slip up on occasion.

But by allowing them to decide whether or not they do their homework, or to forget to take something to school…

They’ll have to face the consequences of their actions, and take responsibility for them.

They’ll feel the impact of this mistake much more when you’re not preventing it or fixing it for them…

And they’ll be much less likely to repeat it in the future.

2. Foster a love of learning

Part of the success of Finnish schools is that their students are engaged and motivated in their studies.

These are concepts that are widely acknowledged as crucial keys to success — at school, and in later life.

You can help your children to engage with their studies by making them personal and relevant…

By taking an interest in what they’re learning, so they know that it’s valuable and interesting…

By taking learning out of the classroom and into the ‘real world’…

And by encouraging them to pursue their passions — not just subjects that seem the most useful or that come easily to them.

Finnish schools offer a wide range of vocational and hands-on classes, in addition to more traditionally academic subjects, but all subjects are considered worthwhile.

‘We definitely believe that for young people handcrafts, cooking, creative pursuits, and sports, are all important’, explained Finnish Minister of Education Krista Kiuru.

‘We believe these help young people benefit more from the skills they’re learning in school. ‘

3. Take the pressure off 

Finnish kids take few standardised tests, and infrequent formal assessments.

This plays an important role in lowering stress levels, and increasing engagement around school.

And while Australian parents don’t have the power to stop compulsory exams or lower university entry scores…

You can help your children to feel more at ease with their studies, and to minimise their potential anxiety around school.

Adopting a Growth mindset takes the focus off results and onto the process…

And this is exactly what you’ll be doing by encouraging a love of learning, rather than the pursuit of high grades.

Encourage your children to do and be THEIR best, not THE best.

And let them know that hard work and diligence — not simply natural ability — will be the key to their success.

4. Encourage a balanced lifestyle 

Finnish kids go to school for as little as four hours a day, and don’t take school work home with them.

They’re encouraged to play often, and do so outside even in the depths of winter.

While the Australian system doesn’t support this kind of lifestyle…

Parents can help kids be encouraging play, relaxation, leisure activities and particularly outdoor activities.

Give kids a break when they get home from school, and before they start their homework.

Help them to get their homework done efficiently and effectively by creating a productive work space, with minimal distractions.

And even for busy year 12 students, encourage them to break up their studies with socialising, exercise, and rest.

For every 45 minutes of study, advocate a 15 minute break (as is the approach in Finnish schools).

A balanced lifestyle will help to make school and study time more manageable AND enjoyable…

And minimise their risk of becoming overwhelmed and worn out.

5. Learn their strengths and weaknesses 

Finnish teachers are able — and expected — to work with the individual needs of each student.

‘We have small class sizes and everyone is put in the same class, but we support struggling students more than others, because those individuals need more help’, explains Kiuru. 

‘This helps us to be able to make sure we can use/develop everyone’s skills and potential.’

Unfortunately, Australian teachers are chronically time poor, work with large class sizes, and have to direct their learning towards the average student…

So it’s easy (and common) for student’s special needs to fall through the cracks.

Parents need to take responsibility for their children’s individual learning needs.

You can do this by talking to your children openly and often, and keeping on top of their studies, deadlines and workload.

When you do this, you’ll be much more likely to pick up on any struggles or challenges.

And by educating yourself on the possible roadblocks to learning, including emotional, social and cognitive problems…

You’ll know the warning signs, and be able to work on intervention methods as early and successfully as possible.

6. Incorporate emotional education 

Every Finnish school has a psychologist and social worker on staff.

This is in part because they acknowledge the important role emotional and mental issues play into learning and development…

And the importance of emotional intelligence in general.

‘Academics isn’t all kids need…. School should be where we teach the meaning of life; where kids learn they are needed; where they can learn community skills’, says Kiuru. 

‘We like to think that school is also important for developing a good self-image, a strong sensitivity to other people’s feelings … and understanding it matters to take care of others. We definitely want to incorporate all those things in education.’

Thankfully, Australian schools are catching on, and adopting positive mental health precautions and emotional education programs.

Parents can continue this emotional education at home, by teaching kids about empathy and resilience…

By knowing the warning signs of emotional challenges like anxiety and depression…

By supporting productive practices like mindfulness and meditation...

And by seeking help from a professional when needed.

Furthermore, author of Helping Children Succeed Paul Tough, says that by giving children some independence (as advocated in point 1)…

They start to develop key non-cognitive abilities, such as resilience, perseverance, and self-control.

7. Respect the expertise — and limitations — of teachers 

Finnish teachers are given a high level of autonomy, respect, and resources in order to their job.

Unfortunately, many (if not most) Australian teachers are overworked, under-resourced, and under increasing pressure.

Parents can support their children’s teachers by taking partial ownership over their child’s learning and experience at school.

You can do this by familiarising yourself with your child’s curriculum and expectations, as suggested in points 1 and 4.

By taking an active interest in your child’s education, you will also be able to pick up on problems that the teacher may not…

And seek the appropriate resources or support needed to get them back on track.

While parents should have certain expectations of teachers…

It’s integral that you understand their limitations, and seek outside help when necessary.

This may be with a psychologist, a tutor, with alternative learning methods or with special considerations.

It is the nature of Australian classrooms that teachers need to appeal to the needs of the majority.

So by addressing your child’s individual needs outside of the classroom, you’re helping your child AND their teachers to be their best.

Australian government and education advisors are constantly working towards a more equal, healthy and holistic approach to schooling.

But for now, parents can take some of the wisdom from Finland’s schooling system, to help their children survive AND thrive in school.

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