By Catherine Black
It’s no secret that I have admired many aspects of Finland’s education system for some time. Despite being overtaken by some of the Asian nations in the coveted educational league tables of top results, Finland can still offer much from which other nations, particularly Australia, could learn.
In Learning From Finnish Schools, Pat referred to Finland’s early childhood education arrangements. I believe one of the key reasons Finland's education system works is because preschool is free (funded by the government), and, as of 2015, compulsory. Preschool goes for one year and is for 5-6 year olds. Formal schooling begins at 7. Play based learning is rightly valued as paramount to a child's development.
Interestingly, about 60% of Finnish students starting school can already read, even though they've had no explicit reading instruction, according to Norwegian researcher, Arne Trageton.
The reason for this is thought to be that their vocal vocabulary is immensely well developed by all their social interactions with other children and adults through their play based programs.
As an anecdotal aside, parents in Finland often finish work at 4pm. This is viewed as normal and necessary, and workplaces are flexible enough to accommodate working parents. The idea is that those who work much longer hours must simply be inefficient! I wonder if having parents around more has also had an impact on the language development of Finnish children (but I haven't read any studies on this yet).
Given all this, I am constantly angered and frustrated by our government's lack of pre-school funding. High quality community pre-schools are still largely the domain of the middle classes and those with significant FACs funding, leaving massive gaps. Early childhood teachers are paid less than primary and secondary teachers. Ironically, this approach will COST the government more money in the future. All research points to the conclusion that the more invested at a pre-school level, the less will be needed to be spent in the future on education, health and criminal justice.
Needless to say, I am delighted to have the opportunity to go to Finland with Pat in late September to meet with real teachers and students. This chance to see the reality behind the research is a dream come true!