For years Finland has been the by-word for a successful education system, perched at the top of international league tables for literacy and numeracy. Finland changes its National Core Curriculum (NCC) every few years. While teachers and even students and their parents may want to see other changes made, the process is coming to a close.
Now, making an historic mark in the field of education, Finland is about to embark on one of the most radical education reform programmes ever undertaken by a nation state – scrapping traditional “teaching by subject” in favour of “teaching by topic”.
Finnish officials want to remove school subjects from the curriculum. There will no longer be any classes in physics, math, literature, history, or geography.
Marjo Kyllonen, Helsinki’s education manager, advocates a “co-teaching” approach to explain this further, with lessons planned jointly by more than one subject specialist. Teachers who embrace the new system receive a small salary top-up.
“We really need a rethinking of education and a redesigning of our system, so it prepares our children for the future with the skills that are needed for today and tomorrow,” she said.
“There are schools that are teaching in the old fashioned way which was of benefit in the beginnings of the 1900s — but the needs are not the same and we need something fit for the 21st century.”
Instead of individual subjects, students will study events and phenomena in an interdisciplinary format. For example, the Second World War will be examined from the perspective of history, geography, and math. And by taking the course ”Working in a Cafe,” students will absorb a whole body of knowledge about the English language, economics, and communication skills.
This system will be introduced for senior students, beginning at the age of 16. The general idea is that the students ought to choose for themselves which topic or phenomenon they want to study, bearing in mind their ambitions for the future and their capabilities. In this way, no student will have to pass through an entire course on physics or chemistry while all the time thinking to themselves “What do I need to know this for?”
The traditional format of teacher-pupil communication is also going to change. Students will no longer sit behind school desks and wait anxiously to be called upon to answer a question. Instead, they will work together in small groups to discuss problems.
The Finnish education system encourages collective work, which is why the changes will also affect teachers. The school reform will require a great deal of cooperation between teachers of different subjects. Around 70% of teachers in Helsinki have already undertaken preparatory work in line with the new system for presenting information, and, as a result, they’ll get a pay increase.
The changes are expected to be complete by 2020.