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EU Education

Finland's Education System Supersedes "Subjects" With "Topics" 213

jones_supa writes Finland is about to embark on one of the most radical education reform programs ever undertaken by a nation state – scrapping traditional "teaching by subject" in favor of "teaching by topic". The motivation to do this is to prepare people better for working life. For instance, a teenager studying a vocational course might take "cafeteria services" lessons, which would include elements of maths, languages, writing skills and communication skills. More academic pupils would be taught cross-subject topics such as the European Union — which would merge elements of economics, history, languages and geography. There will also be a more collaborative teaching approach, with pupils working in smaller groups to solve problems while improving their communication skills.
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Finland's Education System Supersedes "Subjects" With "Topics"

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  • by BenJeremy ( 181303 ) on Sunday March 22, 2015 @11:09PM (#49317081)

    Banish it as an anachronism of the failed imperialist feudal system.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 22, 2015 @11:17PM (#49317129)

      I saw the article too, and consulted a friend in Finland who is an educator. It turns out the article is mostly B.S. In the sense that it isn't the 'revolution' the article paints it to be. i don't know that we can take much of anything we read on the web at face balue anymore. Sigh.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        As a Finn I can confirm that most of the education related articles about Finland are complete BS. This is mostly because the so called "journalists" can't be bothered to verify absolutely anything these days. Let's just say that nothing's really changed and someone from the local education committee of Helsinki is just trying to put frosting on a turd and sell it as a cake.

        • by Chrisq ( 894406 )

          As a Finn I can confirm that most of the education related articles about Finland are complete BS. This is mostly because the so called "journalists" can't be bothered to verify absolutely anything these days. Let's just say that nothing's really changed and someone from the local education committee of Helsinki is just trying to put frosting on a turd and sell it as a cake.

          So what went wrong with Finnish journalism courses?

          • by gl4ss ( 559668 ) on Monday March 23, 2015 @07:57AM (#49318985) Homepage Journal

            So what went wrong with Finnish journalism courses?

            that they take international media seriously. seriously, everytime finland is mentioned, it becomes a headline.

            HOWEVER the education articles about Finland are largely not written by Finnish journalists.

            to them there is nothing special in the education. there really isn't. what's fascinating is how badly other countries fuck up education and devote hundreds of hours yearly only patriotic shit rather than education. USA, 3rd world countries etc particularly fall into this, in those the school system is supposed to "install values" or shit like that through old brainwashing techniques, like reciting the oath to the nation, teaching respect for the teacher etc etc. all time that could be spent on educating the kids(and the teachers).

            that's whats different from finnish schools to others, that they at least TRY to focus on educating facts and not trying to just mold your feelings. flag raising bullshit? "know your place", "brick in the wall" bullshit via school uniforms? yeah, none of that bullshit and who your parent is has zero effect on your grades. incidentally, teachers only gain respect if they deserve it and work for it - automatic teacher respect culture died out decades ago in finland now - which is a strange thing in some countries, like in asia. in thailand teachers are respected, yet they do bullshit like drink beer whilst in class "because it's hot" - the school works more as an authority respect attitude adjustment camp than as a SCHOOL - and then as result even the highly educated are too stupid to understand why it's bad.

      • It turns out the article is mostly B.S. In the sense that it isn't the 'revolution' the article paints it to be.

        Logically, that's just wishful thinking regarding the failed imperialist feudal system.

      • It's almost like Slashdot doesn't have any credibility or something.

    • by Roger W Moore ( 538166 ) on Monday March 23, 2015 @01:19AM (#49317621) Journal
      Finnish subjects finished as subjects in 1918 [wikipedia.org]. Now they will finish subjects in Finnish schools and subject Finnish students to topics subject to subjects being finished.
      • by pr0nbot ( 313417 )

        Please guys let's stay on topic

      • Finnish subjects finished as subjects in 1918 [wikipedia.org]. Now they will finish subjects in Finnish schools and subject Finnish students to topics subject to subjects being finished.

        That's easy for you to say...

  • by Primate Pete ( 2773471 ) on Sunday March 22, 2015 @11:57PM (#49317341)
    It was called vocational education, and it prepared people for skilled blue collar work. The purpose-driven approach wasn't really geared toward a liberal education or to prepare students for self-determined careers, but it did prepare people to work in auto repair shops, to fix HVAC systems, and so forth. It is not clear to me how the Helsinki system will prepare students for university work in liberal arts, sciences without immediate/clear applications, philosophy and mathematics, and so on. I assume they've thought about it, but I don't get it.

    It should be a concern.
    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
      Yes, it's why I never learned to type at school because that's woman's work and it was a vocational stream for the girls. I got to learn how to use a drawing board and pencil instead. Who would have thought I'd be drawing by keyboard not many years later?

      Both made a lot of sense to somebody at the time but it's an example of flaws in vocational instead of general education.
    • by ruir ( 2709173 )
      Why such a radical change? I was educated in industrial schools, choose not to join the work force and continue my studies (actually was also very immature), and again joined a special program for IT work...however it was never only geared through that, they were specialist educational mixed with regular education. Granted, we had more hours of schooling than our counterparts, but then we also had a more rounded preparation for life AND the workforce.
  • by wisnoskij ( 1206448 ) on Monday March 23, 2015 @12:46AM (#49317509) Homepage
    It makes a lot of sense to merge "economics, history, languages and geography" and talk about a slice of all of this while talking about really any event, organization, or nation. History is linked to all of these. But when do you teach calculus and chemistry? Even if you could find some reasonable time to intersperse them, it would never work. Some fields require current and indepth understanding of a whole host of concepts. Courses in Chemistry and mathematics are a constant ramping up of concepts. You cannot break it up without reteaching past concepts every time you do so.
  • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Monday March 23, 2015 @12:48AM (#49317521) Journal
    The purpose of college is to give you a better life, make you a better human. Although it's true that many people go there merely to increase their salary, the wise professors are supposed to guide and open the eyes of their pupils.

    Focusing so much on 'working life' can lead to a seriously deficient education.
    • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Monday March 23, 2015 @03:47AM (#49318157) Journal
      In fact, the idea of school as 'preparing you for working life' almost seems like something out of a dystopian corporatocracy....
      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

        Politicians in the UK regularly talk about how schools should be teaching the skills that employers want. Of course by that they usually mean basic English and maths, but you have to start your dystopia somewhere.

      • I've heard this before, and it's kind of a load of bollocks. "Oh noes! The 'system' is indoctrinating people to be workers in their patriarchy!"

        First, I'm not sure what's wrong with that. Contrary to millenialist fantasies, life is about work (even communists are too pragmatic to believe otherwise). You work the bulk of your adult life in an office, or a shop, or a factory, as a surrogate for roaming the woods fighting bears for food. It's simple. If you don't work, someone else has to gather food for

        • First, I'm not sure what's wrong with that. Contrary to millenialist fantasies, life is about work

          All I can say is your education failed you. Most people work so they can live.....they use money to get things they want, rather than seeing money as an end by itself.

          That you don't realize that means your education failed you. You haven't seen the potential richness of life; they didn't teach you the great lessons of the past. It makes me feel sorry for you.

          • My education didn't fail me, I just don't live in a fantasy utopia.

            I didn't say life was about MONEY, did I? Not at all.

            I said life is about work:
            - working to earn a living to have a home, food, clothing
            - working to raise your kids
            - working to keep your marriage together

            If you assume you are somehow entitled to any of those things, without putting in a great deal of effort, you're a naive utopian who hasn't the faintest concept of the bloody, dirty, gritty underpinnings of the blithely thoughtless life you

            • Most likely you didn't read the original post, so we've been talking about different things in this conversation. Not a problem.
  • How many people will regret their childish decision without any chances to switch career later, because they received "cafeteria only" education? And often parents force kids to take certain "family" career path, but kids can grow up and switch careers... if they have got generic education.
    • In other most other countries (I can't speak for Finland) with split vocational/professional systems, you don't "choose" the vocational or professional path, your test results land you in one or the other. I would also assume that you are leaning basic skills in all paths, just flavored with your particular branch, so if you swtitched branches you would still get something out of it.
  • The teach by topic sounds more like streaming at an early age. China does that because they cannot afford to give all students the same level of "higher education" so they stream people out earlier into more "technical vocations" earlier. This leads to a less flexible society that will not be able to adapt in the future. What you teach in school to some 15 year old may not be valid skills when they are 26. Teaching all the "subjects" to people in a "Cafeteria Services" program in an integrated way may seem like you are teaching them in a way that interests them, but in reality you are really streaming people at an early age into being a "cafeteria servant" and when those jobs are made redundant... so are most of those kids cum adults.
    • you made your argument well

      yes, the american way of thinking seems to be to desire everyone be a well rounded scholar in a wide range of topics

      as an american, this idealistic to an extreme

      the usa regularly fails legions of young students. so we're nowhere near the grandiose goal you have pegged as desirable. but, in actuality, is highly improbable except for a tiny fraction of students. such that you're probably failing more students in worse ways than finland or china

      perhaps the usa should learn from finla

      • "you refer to jobs being made redundant. i don't believe plumber, carpenter, or surveyor have gone out of style since the days of the roman empire, and i don't see robots mixing and hauling concrete at the work site more cheaply any time soon"

        Construction is not done the same way, and it will move even more towards prefabrication in the future. The old skills of carpentry are long gone for the most part.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P... [wikipedia.org]

        Only so many jobs for each of these professions. In addition
      • The construction site across the road from me probably employs 10x the labour (or more) than one in North America because of the availability of low cost labour making it affordable. That means that as labour became less affordable in North America it became redundant but efficiencies.
  • by Dr. Spork ( 142693 ) on Monday March 23, 2015 @02:42AM (#49317935)
    Check out these facts about Finnish teachers, and weep (if you're American) (source [learningfirst.org]):

    Becoming a teacher in Finland is as competitive as getting into an Ivy League school, and Finland offers no other route into the profession. So, there is no Teach for Finland. To teach in Finland requires a five-year master's degree in education. Admission to a teacher preparation program includes a national entrance exam and a personal interview. Only one of every 10 applicants is accepted into a teacher preparation program in Finland; competition to become a primary school teacher is even tougher, with 1,789 applicants for only 120 spots, for example, at the University of Helsinki in 2011-12. Only eight universities offer teacher preparation programs in Finland, which allows the country to ensure consistency from program to program. Contrast that with Minnesota which has about the same population as Finland (5.2 million) but about 30 colleges that offer teacher preparation programs.

    I also remember reading that about 90% of Finnish teachers graduated in the top quintile of their class. In the US, that figure is more like 4%. American students of education typically get the worst SAT and GRE scores of all the majors. We cannot ignore these facts when we're comparing educational systems. In the US it's easier to get into med school than it is for a smart Finn to get into teacher school. The quality of the people who make it through means that pretty much every innovation they try is bound to produce satisfactory results, because highly their best and brightest are in charge.

    • by TeknoHog ( 164938 ) on Monday March 23, 2015 @03:29AM (#49318101) Homepage Journal

      I also remember reading that about 90% of Finnish teachers graduated in the top quintile of their class. In the US, that figure is more like 4%. American students of education typically get the worst SAT and GRE scores of all the majors. We cannot ignore these facts when we're comparing educational systems. In the US it's easier to get into med school than it is for a smart Finn to get into teacher school. The quality of the people who make it through means that pretty much every innovation they try is bound to produce satisfactory results, because highly their best and brightest are in charge.

      Consequently, we have a lot of geeky straight-A's teachers (mostly female) who are unable to handle the rougher kids.

      Disclaimer: I'm a Finnish teacher, having taken a longer, more hands-on route into the career, but I still find myself a bit too geeky for the worst cases.

      • by khchung ( 462899 )

        Consequently, we have a lot of geeky straight-A's teachers (mostly female) who are unable to handle the rougher kids.

        Disclaimer: I'm a Finnish teacher, having taken a longer, more hands-on route into the career, but I still find myself a bit too geeky for the worst cases.

        But why would you think someone with not-as-good academic credentials will fare any better?

        In my experience when I was in school, the best teachers I have encountered were always passionate about the subject they teach. You rarely get people passionate about a subject they are bad at.

        Yes, they may not be very well equipped to deal with kids who don't want to learn, but on the balance, it would be better to let down kids who don't want to learn by a teacher good at the subject but at handling rough kids, th

        • In my experience when I was in school, the best teachers I have encountered were always passionate about the subject they teach. You rarely get people passionate about a subject they are bad at.

          Yes, they may not be very well equipped to deal with kids who don't want to learn, but on the balance, it would be better to let down kids who don't want to learn by a teacher good at the subject but at handling rough kids, than to let down kids who DO want to learn by a teacher good at handling rough kids but bad at the subject.

          Good points. I agree that being passionate and creative about the subject goes a long way, at least in subjects like experimental sciences with hands-on lab work and fancy demonstrations.

          However, there's the whole side of education/upbringing about working with kids/teenagers in general that is hard to gauge when you're applying for a degree in teaching. You have these 19-year olds fresh out of high school who say they love to work with kids, with no idea about the real challenges of the career, and it's

      • So how does the pay of Finnish teachers stack up against other professions there?
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          You don't get as good 'monthly salary' as you could elsewhere, but it is definitely enough to live comfortably, raise your kids and pay your loans.

          However.. my close acquintance works 18-21 hours a week (high school) and spends approximately 1/3 of the year on paid vacation.

          What you lose in the 'end of month' numbers you gain. While I made 1k more a month by working approximately 40 hours per week as Lead Developer for a successful software company, his standard of living was considerably higher than mine

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 23, 2015 @03:28AM (#49318095)

    I am from Sweden, a neighbouring country to Finland. 30 years ago, we reformed our school system to death (communitybased instead of state based, allowing private profit-driven enterprises and so on). Our results have kept dropping and dropping ever since, and it seems it will only keep on this way. We admire Finland; They have the great results we used to have. I really hope their politicians don't disrupt their system with unneccesary and untested reforms.

  • My opinion is that education is about a great deal more than becoming a trained worker ant for some [US usually] multinational. Hey, a topic could be 'optimal picking in an Amazon warehouse', what joy! That would combine sports, graph theory, manual dexterity and subservience to the man.

    Against this, I don't know exactly what the 'plan' is, so my comments could be wide of the mark. I hope so, in fact.
  • When an (American) football player wants to become stronger, he doesn't go practice football. He goes to a weight room and does one round of weight lifting for his pecs, one for his biceps, etc. It doesn't matter that the game of football never involves using just your biceps. You develop the muscles one by one, each one in its most effective way, and then you can use all of them as the need arises.

    Similarly, in school, you develop skills in reading, arithmetic, critical thinking, and so on. Teaching them s

  • this "preparing for the workplace" mantra is the thing that ripped computing out of primary and secondary schools and replaced it with Microsoft Office training. The assorted coding in schools initiatives (Codeclub, the Barclays code playground, Rewired State Codecademy and so on) are the rest of the industry trying to put teaching back into schools. Even Microsoft know they went too far pushing training and want to get teaching of coding back into schools.
    I have a suspicion that Finland will make this work

  • Am I right in thinking that in a discussion about a world event they'd shift between teaching literature, economics, math, geography, etc?

    The whole concept baffles me.

    The problem with this approach from what I would guess is that you're not going to get a functional foundation in the "skills" people go to school to learn.

    I'm going to assume it isn't as stupid as it sounds... I wish them well.

  • Recently I was reading The Seven Day Weekend by Ricardo Semler on my day off. There's a chapter or so devoted to the Lumiar School he founded, which runs on a Mosaic curriculum—a curriculum which discards the traditional subject orientation for learning experiences. Here's an article written about it shortly after the school opened: Learn what you want [telegraph.co.uk].

    What we need to change to go along with this (if we keep them) are the standardized tests (by subject). I think there need to be many questions offe

    • I'd agree with this to a certain extent but I'd be cautious about making everything voluntary, some foundational skills in math, geography, history, language etc should be a requirement. Also life economics like mortgages, pension plans, investments and savings. The entire property bubble was an organised ram raid by the banks on middle class savings, students need to know how that happened so they don't fall for it or any other bubble again. And while we're at it the legal ramifications of things like marr

  • by Kiuas ( 1084567 ) on Monday March 23, 2015 @08:12AM (#49319063)

    As others have already mentioned, the summary is blatantly wrong. What's actually happening is that as of 2016, this sort of topic-based teaching will become mandatory for all elementary schools for at least once a year and the schools get the freedom to decide how long these projects will last. So yes, while this is a rather big change in a way, it's not like they're doing away with subjects altogether, not at all,

  • Sounds a lot like the Montessori method. It's been around for a long time. http://www.montessori.edu/ [montessori.edu]

  • With the exception of the seriously handicapped all students should receive an academic education suitable for admission to one of the better universities. Those who are not able should be diverted into groups taught to function in the lesser trades. The problem is that failing to offer academic education to every able student in a way labels and limits them for life. Expectations should not limit academics. For example some rural counties do not offer even an algebra class in high school as it i
  • Topic based will sure solve short term interests. But topics basically push a system into being trend based.

    Last big industry I know that is trend based is Hollywood. There [in general,] are pop-actors (forumlated), discovered actors (savants), technical (by the book), and method actors (experience). That's not including the wannbes (your nightschool students?) and "wealthies" (buy their way into Hollywood, aka buy your degree).

    Next thing you know, Finland's system will become similar to the above scenario,

  • The article suggest that "Only far eastern countries such as Singapore and China outperform the Nordic nation in the influential Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings."

    NOT true! This is based on the much older PISA study. According to the new one Lichtenstein and Switzerland are ranked before Finnland. Get your facts straight!

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