“You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.”

There is a strong emphasis on relaxed schools that nurture creativity, questioning and in-depth subject analysis- Natasa Pantovic

(Kahlil Gibran, On Children)

We cannot aim to prepare our children for the careers of the future. We live in such a dynamic world that what was a norm 10 years ago, almost certainly will not be reality in 10 years’ time.

The education of the future is much more challenging, shifting further away from ‘spelling and formulas’ towards the development of cognitive thinking where children are given tools to develop their own world, when their time comes.

Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google, to name just a few, all started as small companies made up of a few people with an idea, a talent, and motivation to innovate. So, to educate leaders and innovators of the future, we need an education system that nurtures the love of learning and promotes creativity and innovation.

Finland is this century’s icon of educational reform success, with its students repeatedly gaining the top results in international rankings. Some four decades after Finland overhauled its educational system, many countries try to learn from its example.

So, what are the lessons we could learn from the Finnish educational model?

Finland only has public schools; the country has closed all the private ones. Before the reform, Finland had large learning differences between schools, with richer students typically outperforming their low-income peers. Today, students do well regardless of their socio-economic status.

The Finnish vision is that every child has some talents and those who struggle in certain subjects are given an assistant to help them to progress. No one is left behind.

In their educational reform, the Finns first eliminated the practice of separating students into different tracks based on their test scores, and then eliminated examinations altogether. Finnish children never take a standardised test. Tests are not used to compare pupils or teachers or schools to each other.

Children in Finland start primary school at the age of seven. The idea is that before that time they learn best through play, and by the time they get to the school environment they are keen to start learning.

Teaching is a prestigious career in Finland and teachers are highly valued. All teachers are required to have higher academic degrees and this guarantees the high quality of teaching.

The highly trained teachers have autonomy to make decisions about what and how to teach, they participate in the design of the curriculum of their class, supported by the very lean national standards (featuring fewer than 10 pages of guidance for mathematics, for example).

The Finns also made sure that competent teachers who can shape the best learning conditions for their students are in all the schools.

Teachers keep the same pupils in their classroom for several years. This helps to develop trust between the teacher and the students.

Children study in a relaxed and informal atmosphere and teachers use methods that encourage ‘thinking’, experimenting, project work and collaboration. In a typical classroom, students are not sitting down listening to the teacher; they would be working with other students in small groups, completing projects or writing articles for their own magazine.

The teacher nurtures independence and active learning, allowing students to develop skills to understand and solve problems.

Finnish schools are generally small with relatively small classrooms of around 20 students. All students receive a free meal daily, free health care, transport and learning materials.

They also have plenty of holidays – compared to other Europeans, Finnish children spend the fewest number of hours in the classroom.

The success of the Finish model is not within a competition-based environment that is relies heavily on exams, but it is built on the idea that less can be more.

There is a strong emphasis on relaxed schools that nurture creativity, questioning and in-depth subject analysis. Arts, music and sports are an integral part of every child’s curriculum.

It is interesting that some of the alternative schools’ founders of the last century, such as Rudolf Steiner and Maria Montessori, have worked on the exact same principles when shaping their schools of the future.

Their knowledge of human nature and child development patterns have influenced the pioneers of educational shift that has been happening in the past few decades.

Sir Ken Robinson, an internationally-recognised expert in human creativity, talking about educational reform in the video ‘Changing Education Paradigms’, invites educational bodies to rethink their policies that advocate competition as the key driver of educational improvement.

Indeed, the Finnish experience shows that a focus on creativity and cooperation can lead to an education system where all children learn well.

If these ideas resonate with you or if you are interested in offering this type of education for your children, e-mail alternativeschoolmalta@gmail.com.

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