Pencils, Backpacks, and Perspective: What If?

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Recently, there has been a lot of public discussion regarding how the US’ education system is falling behind other developed nations, as judged by PISA, the international math, reading, and science survey for 15 year-olds. One of the countries that is now looked to for modeling reforms is Finland. The education system in Finland is drastically different from our own, so in this post I will endeavor to imagine what my education might have been like had the US adopted a Finnish-model of education.

The first major difference between the two systems is the way that schools are funded. In Finland, every school gets the same amount of funding. No matter what. Had this been the case in the US, my mother would not have been so concerned about keeping me in private schools my entire life. In fact, there probably would have been fewer private schools to choose from and no need really to attend one. Having spent time living in one of the best school districts in the country as well as one on the opposite side of the country, it’s not hard to see that had these schools had equal funding they might have been a lot closer to being on equal footing.

Another difference? The attention put into the well-being of children. All children legally have access to healthcare, childcare (including preschool), and every school has a welfare team. Public preschools! Can you imagine? Rather than having to pay thousands of dollars to put my sister and I into private preschools, my parents might’ve simply sent us to our local public preschool. Issues with working parents not being able to afford childcare before the child could be sent to kindergarten would be virtually eradicated. I’m also intrigued by the idea of a welfare team. Having had a part-time counselor present at my school for 2 out of 13 years, it seems a lot of trouble might have been saved had students had access to people to help them with any issues in school.

Now this next one is particularly difficult to imagine coming to be in the US. In Finland, education is perceived as a human right. A human right. This means that every child has the ability to attend school from preschool through university for free. My mind is blown. I went through my K-12 education with the knowledge that my parents were investing quite a large amount into my education so that I could go on to a good college. Being in college now, all I ever hear about is the amount of debt students have and the tuition prices that are always going up. It costs a ridiculous amount of money to attend college, but if the US had a Finnish system, I could be attending college for free. I might have gone through my entire educational career for free. It’s incredible.

Finally, a difference which is near and dear to me. In Finland, teachers are afforded the same amount of prestige as doctors and lawyers and are required to have a research-based Master’s degree. My teachers in high school were the smartest, most interesting, most devoted people I have ever met. Despite low salaries and continuous struggles with budget cuts, they trudged on and fought to give my classmates and I an education that would prepare us to be competitive players in the future. Most of them had advanced degrees from prestigious schools, but they were never afforded the degree of respect I believed they deserved, by anyone really. Even most of the student population failed to recognize what great advocates and resources we had in them. This is one of the changes I hope most to see in the future and what could have made for a very different past.

What do you think about other school systems in comparison to ours? Do changes need to be made? Should we draw inspiration from other countries?