David Walters

Finland leads the way in educational reform

What makes an education system great?

Finland yet again is on the forefront of educational reform.

Just a couple of months ago, the country announced that students would no longer be studying subjects and that all lessons will become topic based.

It isn't a completely new idea with most forward thinking curricula having dabbled with this and indeed the British curriculum uses topic based teaching for early years and primary. However Finland plans to take it one step further and rid itself of stand-alone lessons altogether.

It is yet to be seen whether or not this will work as although it looks good on paper, the delivery of this type of curriculum will need a lot of planning and hard work. Given Finland's track record with education, sitting on top of the PISA rankings alongside Singapore and China, we can probably be forgiven for going along with anything they introduce.

What makes an education system great?

Countries across Europe are now trying to emulate Finland's success, but is it their education system alone that puts Finland on top? And is it one size fits all?

Asian countries have strong education systems too with Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Japan all being mentioned in the top 4 of a recent study, followed by Finland and the UK respectively. Asians are notoriously hard working however and their approach to education is quite different from the Fins.

The hours spent studying is much higher than that of Finland, where school days are short. So would the Finnish be even better if they worked longer or would this bring a model based upon play and free choice crashing down?

The state of Thailand's education system?

The best education systems come from richer countries with better support systems throughout the country as a whole. Money is clearly a big influence on the quality of education, so where does that leave Thailand?

Thailand's education system has consistently underperformed in recent years and while money is a factor and we don't expect Thailand to be quite on the same level as Finland or indeed some of the other Asian countries, it still underperforms when compared to its local neighbours; most of which have smaller economies and lower GDPs than Thailand.

Schools are plagued by large class sizes and while there are plenty of good, caring teachers around, training is certainly not as good as it could be.

There are many factors that Thailand can control and we probably all have our opinions on how the education system could be improved, but with no clear direction it may only get worse for Thailand. The lack of direction imposed on by the Ministry of Education does have its benefits to private schools who can generally operate however they want and whilst there are a lot of poorly run private schools as well, they are still a better choice than government schools, for those that can afford it.

The difference in quality between private schooling and state schooling is huge and the gulf isn't getting any smaller. Thailand has an enormous amount of private education facilities, boasting international, bilingual and even Thai schools. The number grows year on year and with so many people, especially in Bangkok, able to afford private education, we could see a lean towards privatization, a similar set up to the healthcare system.

This is not good for the future of Thailand's education and will only stretch the divide between the classes.

Mainstream education needs an overhaul and as Europe uses Finland as a benchmark maybe it is time to look at what other countries are doing right and what Thailand could perhaps do better.

David Walters

Head of British Early Years Centre and Editor of BEYC magazine



Finland can do this because they have a very small population...Basic logistics really...as in Singapore and Hong Kong.

By Daniel Harris, Bangkok (12th May 2015)

The only way to compare the Finnish education system and the Thai education system is to start by acknowledging that in every aspect, they are polar opposites. But probably the biggest and most important difference is how seriously these governments take the responsibility of educating it's young.

For a start, every one of Finland's over 60,000 teachers have a Masters in education. ALL OF THEM! This means that there's no need to ever assess the ability of a teacher. They have the most advanced and successful education system in the Western world because they hire the best and pay them well.

But you can argue that Asian countries are far more regimental when it comes to education (and social mores) so, being instructed by 'boffins' would be frustrating for both side, students and teachers.

Finally, the individual attention given to Finnish students do a good job of propelling them in the direction of a career that they are best equipped to have success in. They know from an early age what sort of jobs they will be training for and ultimately doing.

In Thailand, ask any student what they want to be when they leave school and there's probably at most six different answers: airline hostess, nurse, doctor, musician, video game designer and football player.

By Mark Newman, Thailand (12th May 2015)

I think what is telling about the Finish education system is that it is managed from top to bottom by teachers; Ministers of Education change regularly but they leave management, policy and strategy to the administrators and the people in these positions are serious players with strong backgrounds in practice and research. They are also looking at doing away with exams, even for university entrance, to be replaced with a continuous narrative assessment. Add on to this the fact that the Fins decided many moons ago that education was a big gig so they made a policy decision to make teaching a high status career and did this by introducing high level academic credentials for entry and mirrored that by offering excellent terms and conditions. I think there is a 4 to 1 ratio for applicants to entrants.

Meanwhile in the UK and USA let's blame the teachers ....... And in Thailand, hahahahahaha .......let's not go there.

By Gerry, Thailand (12th May 2015)

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