Yesterday I commented on a post by Anson Burlingame on the subject of education in America. The gist of my opinion on what’s wrong with it was that our system fails to engage parents well and, more importantly, fails to tailor education to the vastly different needs, skills and talents of the students.
As chance would have it, NBC News last night featured a segment on the number one
country in the world for education, Finland. In that highly-socialized country, the high-school drop-out rate is less than 2%. The students graduate high school speaking, on average, four languages (including English). How do they do it?
Turns out that their method has less to do with categorizing students than with applying human resources to the problem. Finnish teachers make less than American teachers, but this is misleading because of the different standards of income. They pay their teachers about what they pay doctors, lawyers and financiers. And, there are an average of three, count-’em, three teachers per classroom. The assistant teachers counsel and tutor those who need it to keep up.
The segment also mentioned that the country had been successful in engaging parents in the educational effort, but didn’t say how. That might be worth a follow-up.
There is a long-recognized principle of management at play here, and I recall it from my
management studies. Before WWII, I think it was in the 1930’s, there was an efficiency study done by Western Electric in a factory that employed women. They sat in a large “wiring room” and worked on transformers and other components of telephone systems. The purpose of the study initially was to apply different changes to the work environment to determine which best improved the work output.
They changed the lighting. They changed the
working hours. Break times. Table arrangements. Types of work. They found a completely unexpected result. Productivity improved, no matter what they changed! The
study concluded that it was the ATTENTION that made the difference, not the changes themselves. We humans are social animals, and nothing affects us so much as attention by others. In my opinion that is precisely what is in play in Finland. (Probably explains the current tattoo fad as well.)
I still think my comment to Anson’s post is valid, but there is clearly more than one way to skin a cat, and Finland found one. Good for them. Maybe we have learned something. Again.