Lessons Thailand can learn from Finland

Lessons Thailand can learn from Finland
File photo of schoolchildren in Thailand. Thailand's education system could learn form Finland, where the students do well because the system has been designed with their best interests in mind.

The news about Finland deciding to undertake reforms in its education system - one of the most admired in the world - has taken the world by surprise.

In the opinion of its admirers, Finland's education system is almost flawless. And so, eyebrows were raised when the Nordic nation recently announced drastic reforms.

Finnish schools have started the process by scrapping traditionally taught subjects, replacing them with teaching based on relevant topics. The new approach will be in place in all schools by 2020.

The radical change is a big surprise. The move only goes to show that the country is not carried away by its successful record. The educators have decided to start anew, as they are determined to create an even better system.

The reason behind it is bold. They see it as a necessity to prepare their young people for professional careers in this fast-changing world.

The world has felt the winds of change blowing across job markets. But perhaps Finland is the first country to take this matter seriously, going to the extent of scrapping old-fashioned "subjects".

The Finns believe that they need to rethink and redesign the system to prepare their children with skills that are needed for the 21st century.

Modern youth are highly skilled in using computers. Information and knowledge are literally at their fingertips. Going by this scenario, learning about space would be more effective on their screens rather than from textbooks.

The artistic ones are blessed with an almost unlimited access to explore great artworks via social media. The landscape of learning is totally different from the past.

Modern society and industries have changed in accordance with technology too. There are no longer rows of clerks totting up figures in banks. A number of jobs like librarians, switchboard operators, typesetters and supermarket cashiers are on the brink of extinction.

However, today's students will face different challenges and requirements once they graduate. The Finnish educators have responded with a new approach that they call "phenomenon teaching".

Instead of learning one hour of history and another of geography, students may be taught topics like "European Union", which is a combination of economics, history, languages and geography.

Likewise, vocational students will no longer spend an hour on mathematics but may study "cafeteria service" - a combination of maths, language and communication skills in one topic.

The current reform is not the first time Finland has taken an unorthodox approach to education. Their system is already unique. Children do not begin schooling before the age of seven, and they do not take any exams or tests for the first six years of their learning.

Many of the details in their education system are different from any other country in the developed world. But their students do well in interaction tests.

The Finns have also proved that the quantity of hours spent in study is not a proof of quality. Primary students in Finland spend only 626 hours a year in class, much less than the 791 hours a year average in the OECD (Organisation of Economics and Cooperative Development) countries.

Thai students spend 1,200 hours a year, far more than developed countries. However, their scores in international tests do not justify the hours they put in.

What makes Finland's education system distinct is it puts children before anything else. International scores or rankings are not at the centre of their reform. In fact, their students do well because the system has been designed with the students' best interests in mind.

And they have scrapped the conventional teaching of subjects for the same reason. All eyes in the education world are on Finland again.

OECD members are enthusiastically watching whether the unorthodox approach could prove successful again.

But as soon as Finland announced its drastic reform, it may have automatically contributed to the education world. It has demonstrated that their policymakers have never stopped improving their education system, even though it is ranked among the world's best.

Perhaps Thailand, which recently set up a so-called education "superboard" chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, can kickstart its own reforms by borrowing some ideas from Finland.

Burying Thai students with dated textbooks and teaching methods and pushing them through "exam factories" should be things of the past. And if Finland can teach us something, it will be that the children's interests must come before any other factor. The rest will take care of itself.

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