When I was 15 years old, I moved from Brazil to the United States and studied 11th and 12th grades at a New York public high school. I remember that the amount of time spent at school, pressure to succeed in standardized tests and available resources were some of the aspects of the system that struck me the most, for better and for worse.
These same aspects strike Finnish educators as foreign and inefficient. According to OECD and Pearson’s research indexes, Finland offers the best education in the world. A major reason for their success turns out to be the country’s unconventional system that steers away from excessive hours in school, measuring success with standardized tests, and offering equal resources to all schools.
In New York, I went to school for seven hours a day and I often stayed later for extra-curricular activities and additional classes. Then, I’d spend most of my evening doing homework due the next day. In contrast, a teacher in the Finnish education system usually teaches for up to four hours a day, and additional hours are filled with social, outdoor and creative activities with students. Although the New York school kept me busy and studying most the time, it also deprived me of time to further explore my passion for creative writing and learning languages.
I could have learned the two in school had my school offered them, but it did not because it lacked resources. Upon moving to America, I believed my school was resourceful because they offered two honors and three AP classes as well as a few clubs. However, I eventually learned that my school was struggling compared to others that offered ten or more honors and AP classes, had school newspapers and competitive sports teams. This would likely not have been a problem in Finland, where the government tries to supply all schools with the same resources in order to provide students with equal chances of learning.
Instead of equally distributing resources to schools, New York uses standardized tests to “ensure” the quality of education within all schools in the state. Students must take Regents exams for most mandatory subjects in high school every year. The issue is, schools end up teaching students how to pass these tests instead of focusing on the true importance of learning, which is critical thinking and knowledge. Finland has a major advantage over the U.S. in this regard: children are not tested at all for the first six years of their education, and they take only one standardized test at the age of 16.
There are many other factors that influence the Finnish education system’s quality and the American system’s struggle. But after experiencing these aspects myself, I notice that there is a fine line between trying too much or too little. In Brazil, I had too much free time in my hands and, although I spent great part of that time studying English, reading books and writing stories on my own, plenty of my classmates did not even finish their homework. But in America, I had too little time for creativity and learning outside of the classroom, and instead spent a lot of time memorizing answers for Regents and SAT exams, which I believe was not terribly beneficial to my education. But Finland fosters an interesting and successful balance worth paying attention to.