This month’s issue of The Atlantic highlights the success of the Finnish educational system in achieving near the top of international educational assessments while using methods quite different from those in the United States. Finland’s schools focus on education as a means of achieving social equality, rather than producing high achieving students. Additionally, Finnish schools eschew extensive drilling and testing for less homework and more creative play. All education is publicly financed, from preschool to university. The article notes that, although Finland has fewer foreign-born residents than the United States, its achievement levels continue to exceed that of Norway, a neighboring country with similar ethnic makeup that uses a more American approach to education.
Understanding successful educational models is particularly important as the United States considers how to replace No Child Left Behind, which has long been criticized for its emphasis on standardized testing. In September 2011, President Obama announced that states would be allowed to apply for waivers to NCLB’s requirement that all students achieve proficiency in reading and math by 2014, as long as states were willing to replace NCLB with their own accountability measures. The importance of including play in school has been studied by Schubert Center Faculty Associate Sandra Russ. In a previous blog post, she stated that play, especially pretend play, has an essential role in child development and that playtime should be included within children’s daily lives.