Schools with Shorter Days, No Homework and Better Outcomes
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I’m not a fan of Michael Moore, but I thought his video about education in Finland would get your attention.
Finland, which has ranked at or near the top of countries in international testing, has discovered principles that we at NACD have known and been implementing for almost fifty years.
Finland’s international ranking was based on the PISA test, which is the Program for International Student Assessment test. When the test was administered in 2015, the United States ranked 41st in math, 25th in reading and 26th in science internationally—not so hot! However, we have been close to the top relative to how much we spend per child.
For the past forty-plus years at NACD we have been working with families to help develop and educate their children, applying some of the same basic principles that have helped turn around the educational system in Finland.
For starters, Finland has learned that less can be more. We have always preached neuroplasticity and the associated principles of frequency, intensity and duration, acknowledging that as you increase duration, you generally decrease intensity and as such push too long and less goes in. Finland also has shorter school days. In Finland, elementary students only attend school for twenty hours a week and don’t even start school until they are seven years old. Older students go to school from about 9:00-9:30 a.m. until 2:00-2:45 p.m. and receive no homework or very minimal homework. When able to really individualize, we can generally accelerate a student at home in about half that much time. The more we can individualize, the more we can target the input and educate efficiently and effectively.
In Finland, they give students many 15- to 20-minute breaks during their school day. We encourage parents to work with their children for short periods, followed by breaks. The younger the children, the shorter the work/attention periods—starting literally from seconds and minutes.
Finland has learned to stop teaching to standardized tests. They are not following a ridged, set curriculum and then testing based on that curriculum. Their system gives teachers much more autonomy to individualize and actually teach until the students have learned something. They are also now starting to use what they call phenomenon-based learning, which means that they are exploring a more holistic approach involving students and encouraging them to explore their interests and talents. We incorporate a child-centered approach as much as possible, using the child’s interests and passions to produce more globally-associated knowledge that sticks, while still focusing on the core, accelerating reading and math. We believe in less curriculum/stuff and more in building the educational foundation and creating a more meaningful education. Establish the educational base, turn the children into readers and turn them on to learning.
Finland also has more children receiving special education services than perhaps any other country in the world. But, it is done differently. Just as we do at NACD, they believe that educational issues can and should be addressed and fixed, not labeled and used as an excuse for failure. Children receive what special services they need so that their issues can be resolved and they can move forward unencumbered.
What neither Finland or any country has learned
The real foundation that we at NACD have been building in children is the neurological foundation—short-term memory, working memory and executive function. What the world has yet to realize is that education alone is not enough. If we build the neurological foundation, we make people smarter—much smarter! And smarter is better!
And now for the rest of the story. . .