It’s no news that we face a sticky, soupy mix of problems in this day and age. Be it racism highlighted by the recent and tragic conflicts in Charlottesville, xenophobia here in the UK causing so many to vote for Brexit, environmental degradation and pollution of all kinds, chronic debt, anxiety, and depression. It’s rather overwhelming when you stack it all up like that, isn’t it? But all of these unfortunate happenings have one thing in common: education. They stem from a lack of it, or rather, education done badly.
People can change. I truly believe that. But it’s so much harder once you’re an adult. You’ve got a lifetime of behavior and beliefs ingrained in you that take a lot of invested time and effort to shift. And the percentage of people who invest that time and effort is slim. Therefore, it’s so much easier if we get things right the first time round, don’t you think?
You’ve probably heard it before, but kids are like sponges. More than that, though; kids are light-hearted and see the magic in life in a way that is easily forgotten once we reach adulthood. They also have an innocence about them that can either be nurtured in the right environment or exploited. They have wants and needs, and it’s important that their schools–where they spend so much of their time–cater to their bright, spongy minds and instill in them a sense of what’s truly important in life. After all, getting an education should be fun. And it can be in the right conditions.
One place is totally bossing its education system, and we really should take a leaf from its book. It’s consistently voted one of the best in the world and its people amongst the happiest on the planet. I am, of course, talking about Finland.
Finland leads the world with its utopian-style education system in a way that I hope will encourage others to follow suit. This Nordic nation places emphasis on extra-curricular activities when it comes to the important aspects of getting an education. School days are short, homework is minimal, and Finnish culture values pursuing personal interests and individuality above all.
With much of the western world struggling through identity crises and young adults having to suffer through what can be a pretty gruelling few years in their twenties trying to “find themselves,” the Finnish system offers salvation. I don’t know about you, but growing up in American and British education systems myself, I noticed that the emphasis was placed on uniformity and structure. It was all about studying to pass tests and doing hours of homework, and by that point, many of us were deterred from extracurriculars for feeling like they were a burden we were just too tired for. How sad is that?
There is nothing more tragic than a child who is stressed out from school. They’ll likely face enough stress in their adult life. There’s no need for it that young! But we see it time and time again in school systems doing it wrong all over the world. A great example of Finland doing things right is seen in Michael Moore’s Where to Invade Next? in which he’s seen discussing early childhood education with teachers. One teacher expresses that time outside is considered very important there and that if a child wants to go climb a tree, she lets them. A recent change to the Finnish school system took this even further by abolishing traditional “classroom” style teaching, and re-conceptualizing school as an open “market place” where a student picks and learns the subjects she’s interested in.
Humans are not robots. We are all unique individuals who feel all kinds of different emotions and have all kinds of different interests. If a child is encouraged to be herself, she has no need to suppress her true personality. She can become more confident in her abilities from a young age and have a better idea of the career path that she might wish to pursue after graduating. She’ll invest her time in activities that stimulate her and live a more fulfilled life.
If a young boy is in an environment where individuality is encouraged, he’ll understand from an early age that we’re all different. No matter our background, physical appearance, or personal struggles, he’ll accept that this is simply the way things are. He won’t have any concept of a uniform life because he was never taught that that was normal. Plus, a typical Finn masters Finnish, Swedish, and at least one other language in school–not only English, but also German, French, Russian, and many others. Finns understand that only a very small number of people speak Finnish, so their linguistic open-mindedness leads to an open-minded about culture in general.
This education system is conducive to embracing all kinds of people and cultures, and reducing prejudice about what physical appearance, language, and customs.
If children are raised in a safe, warm, creative environment, they will naturally do their best and cultivate compassion. Could this be the future we should all be striving for?
Is this how we create a better world without racism and hate? By beginning with our schools? What do you think?
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