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Opinion: New education system in Finland could become the world standard

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This year the Finnish government is making an extraordinary reform in its national primary and secondary education program.  Finland has begun to move on from the traditional subject-based curriculum structure to a “topic” based one.  The replacement of “subject” with “topic” is a simple formal change on paper, but Finland has suited these words with definitions that make their implementation quite different from each other.  Lesson plan topics attempt to correct for the “exam factory” trend in contemporary education.  In patching up this problem, it may make general education vulnerable to becoming more vocational and may make class systems more rigid.  Subject lesson plans—while home to many due criticisms of its own—are general and attempt to give students a more foundational education.

The gold standard in education has been the subject-based curriculum structure. Get up, eat breakfast, and then attend roughly seven to eight one-hour courses that cover a breadth of basic subjects in school.  This model has functioned in many diverse places for over a century.  For years, Finland has achieved internationally recognized and distinguished success while teaching subject lessons.

Yet, this European leader in the development of successful education programs has revealed itself unsatisfied with the status quo.

Topic-based education will involve tasking students with diversified but related challenges that will attempt to prepare them for a more modern workforce.  A student could feasibly expect a customer service exercise in which they were asked to speak a foreign language to a customer and give out exact change for a business transaction. In this exercise, math, languages, economic social interaction are all accounted for.

These sorts of exercises are happening right now in Finland’s reform-flagship school in Helsinki.  All other Finnish students can expect to experience topic-based education before the end of 2020.

This reform should not be taken lightly. If it is successful, then it may influence the rest of the educational systems in the world. Some might say education in places like the United States are in need of serious reform. America, for instance, is home to many educational shortcomings like the urban-suburban disparity. Good. Typically suburban U.S. schools are considered “exam factories” while urban poor ones are informally known as “dropout factories.”

Still, if successful, other countries may begin working with the Finnish topic-based prototype.  The reform itself, which pushes for the application of ideas into more practical classroom activity, may tend towards the vocational model. In a world where education is seen as a beacon for the assurance of equality of opportunity, anything that standardizes workforce oriented studying may seem a bit 1984. People could be trained right into their destinies, removing some of the spontaneity from the career outcomes of students.

In a country like Finland, this reform may seriously bring about a more well-equipped body of students entering the modern world than almost anywhere else.  The class system at least appears healthier than, say, the British or American one.  Finland hits a 27.8 on the Gini Index (which measures national income inequality where 0 is equal and 100 unequal) while England and the U.S. rank 38 and 41.1 respectively.

Finland will probably continue on as a healthy, happy country with or without topic-based lesson plans.  However, place education reform of this high a degree in a more volatile setting, and the result may be ruinous. The disparity between inner-city and suburban schools in the United States may worsen from a change like this.  This is not a conservative’s argument which argues against change, but instead criticizes how certain kinds of change are affected by context.

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