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Bill Cirone: Finland’s Inspirational Approach to Education

William Doyle, a Fulbright Scholar, New York Times bestselling author and award-winning TV producer, wrote a powerful essay about the “School of the Future.”

First, the context. As a Fulbright Scholar, Doyle spent five months as a Finnish public school father and a classroom observer. In his own words, he was “completely amazed at how good Finnish comprehensive schools are” and wanted to capture the quality, impact and important lessons learned from what he saw.

Doyle wrote: “I have seen the School of Tomorrow.

“It is a place where children and teachers are safe and happy.

“It is a school where children are encouraged to be children, to play, to daydream, to laugh, to struggle and fail, to assess themselves and each other, to question and learn.

“It is a school where teachers test their students every day, not with low-quality standardized tests or faceless screens, but with constant face-to-face observations and teacher-designed assessments.

“It is a school where teachers are highly trained, treasured, and respected, and given the freedom to teach at their best.

“It is a school where teachers collaborate and experiment with ways to help their students learn better.

“It is a place where technology is the servant, not master.

“It is a school where children are prepared for life, not only with the fundamentals of language, math and science, but with play, arts and crafts, drama, music, ethics, home skills, nature, physical activity, social and emotional support, warmth, and encouragement.

“It is part of a school system that delivers world-class educational results and educational equity to hundreds of thousands of children.”

An inspiring account of schools at their best. 

Doyle went on to attribute Finland’s historic achievements in delivering educational excellence to a national love of childhood, a profound respect for teachers as trusted professionals and a deep understanding of how children learn best.

Some of Doyle’s favorite Finnish sayings on education are: “Let children be children” and “The work of a child is to play.”

Doyle concludes, “With a ‘whole child’ approach, by highly training and trusting teachers…Finland has flown to the stratosphere of global performance.” 

Doyle also recognizes that Finland’s education system is hardly perfect.

“Its schools and society are entering a period of huge budget and social pressures. Finnish students slipped in one recent round of global benchmark tests.”

Finland, he believes, will view times of struggle as opening doors of great opportunity.

Quoting French philosopher Albert Camus, Doyle said, “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger — something better, pushing right back.” 

Finland’s schools have long been its bedrock strength, and their approach to education is an inspiration and a model to the world.  

— Bill Cirone is Santa Barbara County’s superintendent of schools. The opinions expressed are his own.

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