Friday, October 26, 2012

Want more or want better?

My experiences over the past six weeks have led me to think about what people want in an educational system. What does it take to create a strong, reliable system that will promote learning, respect, and social responsibility? What I've seen in Finland is a system that wants better without more hours. The pupils go to school for 4 1/2 hours as 1st and 2nd graders, then about 6 hours daily from 3rd through 6th grade. This phenomenon of going to school for half a day and getting excellent results from the pupils is hard for most countries to wrap their heads around. Most countries, including the U.S., Japan, China, and Korea have taken the school day to fairly long hours and think this will get better results. This is the mentality that the U.S. has built  themselves around for decades. Working longer will get better results. Is this true?  Finland is showing everyone that this is not necessarily true. Not only are the pupils going to school for less hours daily, but the amount of time they spend on math, science, Finnish, history is only a couple of hours a day with the 7 and 8 year olds and approximately 3 1/2 to 4 hours a day with the 9-12 year olds. The rest of the day is comprised of physical activity, recess, creative time, lunch.

In the U.S. we pride ourselves on working longer hours to get more done. Do we really get more done? Could we get the same amount of work done in less hours if we focused on the task and then had a break. Focus on another task, then have a break. Leave at a reasonable time and relax at home. This high work ethic mentality has been taken to the U.S. schools as well. Finland children rarely take assignments home with them and they focus on learning content at school for less time with breaks in between. End result: better test scores and more productive learning across the students. Shouldn't we look at this phenomenon and consider making some changes in the U.S. schools? Parents, administrators, communities are crying out for change in the schools. We all know that more assessments is not the key, more time in a desk is not the key, less active time is not the key, but what are we doing? We're applying more assessments, more time in the desk, less time being active.  This equation continues to produce poorer results!

We need to consider this thought: Do we want to strive for more or do we want to strive for better? If we want better, then we need to coordinate our time on task to be focused and then have a break. If we want more, then we continue to do what we've been doing. Another way of putting this: Coaches for many years thought that keeping athletes on the practice field or in the gym for longer hours would produce better performance. What we now know: less time on the field or in the gym, but more focused practice produces better performance. This is the same mindset I want to see for the U.S. schools. Less time in the desk - more productive performance based on more focused learning. So I'll end with the question I began with: What does it take to create a strong, reliable system that will promote learning, respect, and social responsibility? This is not an easy question, but it needs to be answered. Good luck thinking it through.