As an educator, I'm always in thought, and often in conversation, about what "works" for students. How do we get children to learn? Why do some children learn quickly, and others struggle? Often these simple questions are answered through "labels." That is, the child has behavioral problems, or learning disabilities. However, there are some who, in my limited experience, are simply behind. According to certain tests, or experts in our district, these students do not qualify for special help because they know just enough - and yet, are still vastly behind their peers.
I don't claim to have answers. Really, I just have questions. One of them is what if more school, that is, starting children in school at 3 or 4 years old, is actually harmful to educational development?
I just read an article from BBC News about the educational system in Finland. Finland, as of 2006, is on top of the world in reading and math (reading they're #1, math #2). And one thing they do differently is start children in school "late." According to the article:
"Children in Finland only start main school at age seven. The idea is
that before then they learn best when they're playing and by the time
they finally get to school they are keen to start learning."
I would add that being at home until that age has the possibility to give children a chance to build emotional bonds with their parents, which then acts as a springboard to other development. I teach over 100 students during my day, and many of those "low" achievers come from broken homes, and have been in school for many, many years. Would they have been better served if they had had the chance to be at home until they were seven? The numbers put up by Finland suggest they may have been.
The article also mentions that Finland lacks diversity, especially those children trying to learn a language and achieve in that second language. Their school system also combines secondary with primary grades, giving teachers longer to "get" to every student.
There are many other issues besides education that are at play. One of them being the state of the American home. Like I said, many of my students come from broken homes - as well as their counterparts in much of our country.
We need to continue asking questions about the link between the home and education. And in particular, we need to rethink our methods regarding sending children to school as soon as possible.
There's a link to the article at the end of this post, and I'd be interested in any comments you may have. It would take a big shift in our culture for us to do things the way Finland does - but it just might be worth trying.
Thanks for reading.
Why do Finland's school's get the best results?