Education must become more reflective of life, and the world we live in…
Rivalled only by Far-eastern superpowers such as China and Singapore, Finland has for years now topped International tables for literacy and numeracy, and won praise for the wider standard of their Education system. It is well publicized that the minimum requirement, and indeed the corner stone of the Finish education system is the philosophy of first and foremost ‘creating a good citizen’. This fundamental criteria is the value upon which the rest of the system is built.
Just recently Finland announced major reforms to their education system, the most poignant of which being the scrapping of taught ‘subjects’ in favour of ‘topics’. The intentions of which – to create an education system more reflective of the 21st century and the needs of our time. Thus, better equipping students for the world. Major changes recently implemented by the UK government included scrapping coursework, in favour of making subjects 100% exam orientated.
For a while now I have argued that fundamental change is needed in our education system. Not least to produce an inclusive system that caters for all – offering an environment which provides all students with the best possible opportunities to attain and achieve, but for an education system, who’s very approach and philosophy reflects that of life and the world we live in. Learning through topic, rather than ‘subject’ offers a far more holistic approach to learning, and creates an understanding far more reflective of, and akin to the world.
As somebody who has received an education through Art, and has enjoyed the benefits that such an education provides, I am acutely aware that as an artist I do not exist in isolation. As a race, we are deeply moulded by our environments and the society in which we have grown and live. The relationships and friendships we enjoy and (sometimes) endure, and the experiences we live through inextricably shape and mould us. We are inherently malleable creatures, and despite our best efforts, are deeply influenced by our surroundings. As an artist then, the work I produce is to some degree an extension of myself, or a reflection of my experiences. Indeed, the work of art its self is a product of its time, and does not exist in isolation to the events and experiences of the world.
Major historical events such as world wars are often shaped by complex and intricate political, economic, geographic or even cultural events, factors or triggers. So to learn about such an event from a single perspective as a ‘subject’is fundamentally flawed, or at the very least short sighted.
Part of the thinking behind the reforms to the Finish system include better preparing students for the world of work outside of education, and the needs of the current age. One example of this, as Richard Garner discusses in his article in the Independent, would be to equip a student with all the life skills needed for a particular career:
“a teenager studying a vocational course might take ‘cafeteria services’ lessons, which would include elements of maths, languages (to help serve foreign customers), writing skills and communication skills.”
“more academic students would study cross-subject topics such as the European Union – which would merge elements of economics, history (of the countries involved), languages and geography”
Further proposed reforms also include offering a more collaborative approach to learning, more akin to the world of Business. In a shift away from the traditional classroom format, students will be required to work in small groups encouraging problem solving and communication. The business world has for a long time now placed huge emphasis on collaboration, and the benefits that collaborative working entails. Multi-national market leader Google famously introduced their ‘20% time’ initiative, encouraging employees to spend 20% of their working time collaborating or working independently on their own ideas. This creative initiative is said to have harboured some of their most innovative developments such Gmail and Google News.
Educators, not teachers…
Although not entirely met without opposition, the Finish reforms propose an inclusive system, better aligned at meeting the needs of the present day and reflective of the 21st century. The main opposition to the reforms appears to originate from current teachers, many of whom have studied for years into their chosen discipline. Perhaps understandably, many of these ‘subject’teachers are reluctant to embrace such fundamental change which fails to acknowledge their amassed subject knowledge. Initiatives aimed at targeting this however, and encouraging a cross – curricular approach to lesson planning have been trialled displaying positive results.
Despite opposition however, schools where the new proposals have been trialled already show very positive signs, with student ‘outcomes’ (student grades) improving all the time. Despite growing calls for the UK government to look to our Scandinavian neighbours and adopt such changes in favour of their current ‘exam factory’ reforms, have so far gone unnoticed though with no such plans in place.
Fundamental change, therefore, requires a fundamental shift in perspective. in order to fully adopt such change, one needs to cease holding on to the pillars of the past. Perhaps, by leaving behind such titles as ‘teacher’, and the connotations the word entails, and replacing them with new titles such as ‘educators’, – one is more readily able to shake off the shackles of an outdated system and embrace a new philosophy more akin, and more reflective of a new time…