The Key to Education Success? Don't be Competetive

Ben Cohen
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A fasacinating article in the Atlantic looks at the wildly successful cooperative Finnish education model and concludes that the excessive competitiveness of the American model is actually counterproductive:

Finland's schools owe their newfound fame primarily to one study: the PISA survey, conducted every three years by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The survey compares 15-year-olds in different countries in reading, math, and science. Finland has ranked at or near the top in all three competencies on every survey since 2000, neck and neck with superachievers such as South Korea and Singapore. In the most recent survey in 2009 Finland slipped slightly, with students in Shanghai, China, taking the best scores, but the Finns are still near the very top. Throughout the same period, the PISA performance of the United States has been middling, at best.

Compared with the stereotype of the East Asian model -- long hours of exhaustive cramming and rote memorization -- Finland's success is especially intriguing because Finnish schools assign less homework and engage children in more creative play. All this has led to a continuous stream of foreign delegations making the pilgrimage to Finland to visit schools and talk with the nation's education experts, and constant coverage in the worldwide media marveling at the Finnish miracle.

The Finnish model places a very strong emphasis on cooperation, non competitiveness and equality. Schools are funded equally and there is a distinct lack of testing- characteristics completely foreign to the US system.

It would be vey difficult to introduce this type of education system to America, particularly on a national level - the US is built on the principles of rugged individualism and competition as opposed to the mutualism and shared responsibility culture in Northern Europe. This isn't to say that elements of it couldn't work - America is in a transitional period given the state of the economy and explosion of online technology that is leading to new and experimental methods of doing things (MIT recently put all of its courses from its undergraduate and graduate programs online for free for example) - so it is entirely possible that a state could role out a Finnish education program on a trial basis.

However, it is probably wishful thinking that the Finnish model will have a major impact on the US education system despite all the press attention it is getting, and for one good reason: The US is not interested in outcomes. It doesn't care whether it is top or bottom of the international education ranks, just like it doesn't care how good its healthcare outcomes are (and they are shockingly bad).

The US is run by the rich for the benefit of the rich and as long as their children are educated to a high standard, there isn't a great deal of concern about the rest of the population. In the long term, this is a disastrous way to run a country and the US will continue to decline as an economic super power.

But then that doesn't matter either as long as the rich still have their mansions.

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