The other Fulbright teachers in Jyvaskyla and I talk a lot about the "secret sauce" of Finnish education. When we talk, we ask a lot of questions about Finnish education. Why does Finnish Education work so well for so many? Why do these students, who attend school for fewer hours per week and have less homework than American students, score so well on the PISA tests? Is it funding? Is it how the teachers are trained? Is it because teacher education programs accept only the top students from high school? Is it the social safety net? Is it the autonomy given to children? Why are the kids so calm? Is it the mental and physical cleanse of the weekly sauna? (I'm serious about this.) Why can elementary teachers leave a classroom of students unattended for short periods and students stay on task? Today, I found one of the ingredients of the "secret sauce": The Finnish Constitution.
This information comes from a document that is accessed through a link on Finland's Ministry of Justice website. ( http://oikeusministerio.fi/en/constitution-of-finland)
The document has a disclaimer that says it is an unofficial translation.
Section 6 - Equality
Everyone is equal before the law. No one shall, without an acceptable reason, be treated differently from other persons on the ground of sex, age, origin, language, religion, conviction, opinion, health, disability or other reason that concerns his or her person.
Children shall be treated equally and as individuals and they shall be allowed to influence matters pertaining to themselves to a degree corresponding to their level of development.
Equality of the sexes is promoted in societal activity and working life, especially in the determination of pay and the other terms of employment, as provided in more detail by an Act.
Wow! Read the paragraph about children again. Children are specifically identified as a group with specific rights, protections and self determination. Wow! That explains a lot. All of us in Jyvaskyla have marveled at the varying degrees of autonomy shown by Finnish children depending on their age. Young kids walk to and from school alone and they play in parks without direct adult supervision. Middle and high school students choose the classes they want to take based on their interests and strengths. Technical Craft students are allowed to use power tools and machines with varying degrees of supervision.
As we talk to teachers and counselors, we have learned that the adults in Finland trust students to make decisions for themselves. Students are responsible for making the most of their education. Teachers have told me that if a student wants to spend class time on their phone texting friends or playing video games, it's their choice. The teachers job is to teach the class. The student's job is to be the student. Ultimately, the student will have to live with the consequences of their actions. Finland has a "no dead end" higher educational and vocational system so students can return to school and study another subject or begin a new career.
Importantly, students are trusted to direct and follow an educational path that is meaningful them. There are fewer requirements for graduating from upper secondary so students have more flexibility in pursuing subjects they are interested in. The secret sauce isn't sitting on top of the educational sundae, it's an ingredient in the ice cream.
I am a high school art teacher from Boulder Valley School District in Colorado studying craft education in Jyvaskyla, Finland. I am in Finland through a grant from the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching program and the Fulbright Finland Foundation.