11 Ways Finland’s Education System Shows Us that “Less is More”
When I left my 7th grade math classroom for my Fulbright research assignment in Finland I thought I would come back from this experience with more inspiring, engaging, innovative lessons. I expected to have great new ideas on how to teach my mathematics curriculum and I would revamp my lessons so that I could include more curriculum, more math and get students to think more, talk more and do more math.
This drive to do more and More and MORE is a state of existence for most teachers in the US….it is engrained in us from day one. There is a constant pressure to push our students to the next level to have them do bigger and better things. The lessons have to be more exciting, more engaging and cover more content. This phenomena is driven by data, or parents, or administrators or simply by our work-centric society where we gauge our success as a human being by how busy we are and how burnt out we feel at the end of the day. We measure our worth with completed lists and we criminalize down time. We teach this “work till you drop” mentality to our students who either simply give up somewhere along the way or become as burnt out as we find ourselves.
When I arrived in Finland I did not find big flashy innovative thought provoking math lessons. I did not find students who were better at mathematics or knew more math content. In fact the Jr. High and High school math classrooms have been rather typical of what I have experienced in Indiana. And most of the struggles (like students not remembering their basic math facts) were the same. The instruction and classroom structure of a math classroom in Finland follows the basic formula that has been performed by math teachers for centuries: The teachers go over homework, they present a lesson (some of the kids listen and some don’t), and then they assign homework. While some lectures have been wonderful and I have gotten to observe some fantastic teachers, I would say that on the whole I have seen more engaging and interactive secondary math instruction from teachers in the United States. It is rare to see a math lesson that is measurably better than those found in my district and I have seen several that were actually far worse.
So, what is the difference? If the instruction in secondary mathematics is the same or sometimes worse than those found in the US, why are Finnish students succeeding and ours are failing? The difference is not the instruction. Good teaching is good teaching and it can be found in both Finland and in the US. (The same can be said for bad teaching.) The difference is less tangible and more fundamental. Finland truly believes “Less is More.” This national mantra is deeply engrained into the Finnish mindset and is the guiding principal to Finland’s educational philosophy.
Less IS more.
They believe it. They live by it. Their houses are not larger than what they need in which to comfortably live. They do not buy or over consume. They live simply and humbly. They don’t feel the need to have 300 types of cereal to choose from when 10 will do. The women wear less make-up. The men don’t have giant trucks (or any vehicles at all, really). Instead of buying hundreds of cheap articles of clothing the Finns buy a few expensive items of high quality that will last for decades rather than months. They truly believe and live by the mentality of less is more.
Conversely in the US we truly believe “more is more” and we constantly desire and pursue more in all areas of our lives. We are obsessed with all things new, shiny and exciting and are constantly wanting to upgrade our lives. Out with the old in with the new! This mentality of “more is more” creeps into all areas of our lives and it confuses and stifles our education system.
We can’t even stick to ONE philosophy of education long enough to see if it actually works. We are constantly trying new methods, ideas and initiatives. We keep adding more and more to our plates without removing any of the past ideas. Currently we believe “more” is the answer to all of our education problems— everything can be solved with MORE classes, longer days, MORE homework, MORE assignments, MORE pressure, MORE content, MORE meetings, MORE after school tutoring, and of course MORE testing! All this is doing is creating MORE burnt out teachers, MORE stressed out students and MORE frustration.
Finland on the other hand believes less is more. This is exemplified in several ways for both teachers and students.
Less = More