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“The countries who do the best in international education, whether it’s Finland or Japan, Denmark or Singapore, do well because they have professional teachers who are respected, and they also have family and community which support learning”. -Howard Gardner

With Singapore topping global tables for the most successful education systems, and Finland not far behind, what can we learn from these two very different approaches to teaching our children?

Singaporean children begin school from the age of three, while Finnish children do not start school until the age of seven. Another huge difference is in the approach to testing. In Finland, formal testing does not happen for the first six years of a child’s education, while in Singapore, it is present in students lives form day one! Singapore is widely criticised by many educationalists for creating a ‘pressure cooker’, in which students must achieve, as they will decide where students go to school at twelve, as well as which academic levels and subjects are taken.

In stark contrast, within the Finnish system, the first and only mandatory standard test occurs at sixteen. This approach, considers that all children should be educated universally and in the same way, a concept that is based on ethical principles of fairness and equality. This though, is not simply a moral code, but is written in law, that all students of all levels must be taught together, indiscriminately. They have made ability based setting a thing of the past. All students are taught each year in the duplicate subject material and level, regardless of abilities. Furthermore, all teachers teaching these diverse groups, must possess a Master’s degree or higher.
In Singapore the teaching method is largely ‘scripted’, with great emphasis on tests and diagrams, as well as a focus on the most practical aspects of schooling – learning the curriculum and constantly cramming for the end of semester exams. The exams are said to always be extremely pressured and ‘high stakes’, because they will decide what a student will learn next, or if they are allowed to continue at all. Unlike most Western classrooms, there is little discussion, and the focus is on memory-based knowledge of the material, rather than the Finnish emphasis on learning through discovery, through the dialectic.

In Singapore, knowing the right answer takes precedence over comprehension. Often referred to as an ‘instructional regime’, as students are fitted into the criteria for advancement rather than the criteria being flexible to the student. Like a well-oiled machine, there is no doubt that this system works for Singaporeans.

Although more oriented toward ‘free thinking’ and ‘play’ the educational system of Finland seems to work equally well when compared to international test scoring results. The more laid-back approach may encourage a relaxed mind, which in turn could be said to prove effective at developing in students more advanced analytical skills, central to problem solving. What would be a drawback in the Singapore educational system, finding a solution that may not be “the” solution, has been made an asset by the Finnish approach to inclusive teaching. The downside to this approach is that students miss out on significant attributes when operating in a global market. Although Singapore gets superb test results, one wonders, if the future leaders of Singapore are only looking for one right answer, they may miss the sort of innovations which really modernise and energise a society.

Thanks for reading. For a humorous and interesting take on how Finland changed their education system follow the link below.

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