Happiness and Finnish Education


A recent news item in the Independent reported that The secondary school system will be engaging in educational reforms in which the emphasis will be on teaching by topic rather than by subject. The article reports that instead of discrete subjects like math, science, and geography, students will study, for example, a general topic like the European Union and will examine interrelated issues on that topic. All of this seems very similar to progressive education ideas (e.g., holistic education) that have long advanced the interrelatedness of knowledge.

However, as internet links to this news item circulated among educational professionals, it became clear that a larger story was being missed. Valerie Strauss began the work of sorting out the story in her blog comments on what the Finnish secondary reforms really do...which turns out to be more like allowing for an integrated studies component as part of the secondary school curriculum. But Strauss missed out on developing the larger story of some of the values underlying the general reform of the Finnish education system. This reform is nicely captured in the words of Irmeli Halinen, the Head of Curriculum at the Finnish National Board of Education. In the video above, Halinen describes some of the key issues at play in a revisioning exercise for Finnish education.

In this video, she notes that some in Finland have been worried that children are not as happy in schools and they might be and observes that "in order to feel ourselves happy and balanced, to have a sense of coherence, we need at least three things:

---we need to understand the world around us, to make sense of what is happening...

---we have to be able to manage our daily lives, to take care of ourselves.....

---the third factor...I think is the most important thing, we need to be able to feel ourselves [as] meaningful persons in those communities where we live, to be listened [to], to be seen, to be valued, to be loved in those communities so that we feel ourselves important members."

I was struck by the word choices made in her presentation which later goes on to comment upon ideas like humanity, culture and democracy, as well as sustainability. It would be lovely if these ideas somehow captured the media's attention as much as one aspect of curricular reform in secondary schools, or, better yet, the standing of the Finnish schools in what has now become the typical collection of horse-race styled reports of international assessments.

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