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  1. Recently, I came across a report on the internet about the education system in Finland. In the report, the Finn education system was compared to the Singapore’s. Singapore has one of the best education systems in the world. Equally, the Finn educational system has consistently come at the top for the international rankings. However, the interesting thing is that the Finn education system is totally different from the Singapore’s.
    In short, the Singapore education system, in a way, encourages competitive learning. On the other hand, the Finn’s promotes collaborative learning. Students in these two countries learn under a completely different atmosphere.
    In Singapore, children start receiving formal education at a very young age of 3 and the young children are constantly under the society pressure to view the assessment score as everything. The score decides which secondary school, which stream and which subjects a 12-year-old student will go to. In Finland, children don’t start school until they are 7 years old and they are not measured at all for the first six years of their education. Finn children rarely take exams or do homework until they are into their teens. The only mandatory standardised test is taken when children are 16 years old.
    If we are to replicate the Singapore education system (eg. PSLE, different streams etc) in Finland, it would have been illegal. The Finn education system focuses on fairness and equality among students. Putting students of different abilities into different classes is illegal in Finland. All children, with either high or low ability, are taught in the same classroom. Children have long recession time (75 minutes) in elementary school. Extra tuition class is foreign to Finn parents. Young children do nothing but play in school.
    While the Finn education system looks totally odd to Singaporeans, it is ranked one of the top in the world. The followings are some facts about the Finn education system :
    – 93% of Finns graduate from high school.
    – 66% of students go to college.
    – The difference between the weakest and strongest students is the smallest in the world.
    – 43% of Finn high-school students go to vocational schools.
    – Teachers only spend 4 hours a day in the classroom and take 2 hours per week for “professional development”.
    – Science class is capped at 16 students per class so that they students can participant in practical experiments.
    – Finland spends about 30% less per student than the US.
    – In an international standardized measurement in 2001, Finn students came top or very close to the top for science, reading and mathematics.
    The education system in Finland is made very laid-back deliberately and we can see the benefits of it from the above facts. The point which is worth commenting is the small difference between the weakest and strongest students. Although I do not have any statistical proof, I believe this is not the case for Singapore. Personally, I reckon that the equality and fairness emphasised by the Finn helps bridge the gap between the strong and weak students.
    One more fact which is worth noticing about the Finn education systems is the quality of the teachers. All teachers in Finland must have a masters degree which is fully subsidized. They are also selected from the top 10% of the graduates. In Finland, teachers are very well respected and are given the same status as doctors and lawyers. In 2010, 660 school teachers were selected from 6600 applicants. Teaching as a career is highly regarded in Finland. In Singapore, we seem to be facing a shortage of teachers all the time. Is this phenomenon linked to the high expectations we have on our students?
    As a mother of two young children, I wish the Singapore Education System can be more like the one of Finland. Singapore is placing far too much emphasis on producing “top” students. “Top” students are defined as the ones having outstanding academic result. More often than not, they are the ones with PSLE aggregate of more than 280 and/or O or A-level with all As. Looking at producing students with excellent academic result by itself is not wrong, but in the process of achieving this, most students are under tremendous pressure and it creates a very competitive learning environment. Personally, I think the pressure and being overly competitive is unnecessary.
    Students can learn through many ways. For young children, they may be able to learn better through games under a relaxed atmosphere. Imposing assessments on young learners may have adverse effects and students learn for the wrong purpose. Looking at the Finn system, young children learn through games and collaborative efforts and they do not have to worry about examinations until they are 16 years old. Yet, their academic performance later on is still good. All Singaporeans are just too immersed into the current educational system which focuses on academic performance. Nearing PSLE or other main examinations, not only the student himself/herself is feeling stressed out, the parents are equally pressurized. Many parents have the perception that their child’s PSLE result will define his success in the future. In case he does not do well in the examination, his future will be gone. I feel this negative thought demotivates the child further and there is a need for change in this perception within the society. Having said that, there is much more to do than just changing this perception. Or rather, before this perception can be changed, there is a need to transform the attitude towards education.
    As citizens of a country with a knowledge based economy, many of us will question if this can ever be achieved in Singapore. If we would like to shift towards an education system which is similar to the one in Finland, a large-scale educational reform will need to take place and it will have to start with a change in culture and people’s mind-set. Such reform will take a very long time to launch and yield effects.
    There are obviously many areas in the Finn education system we can learn from, from education philosophy, school-starting age, curriculum design, assessment methods and frequency to teachers’ motivation. From my point of view as a mother and an educator, I can see many benefits of the Finn education system which are severely lacking in the context of Singapore. With some recent initiatives from the government such as changes in the PSLE policy, I hope we can move away, gradually, from the overly pragmatic education system (as I would call).


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