Heidi Katz and Patrick Walsh 2015-16: Education for the Future: Relevant Goals and Outcomes

When designing anything, the first step is to visualize the product. This is true when considering the institution of schooling; we must first understand the end-goal. As educators, we are delighted to find the Finnish National Board of Education (FNBE) places "development as a human being and as a citizen," at the focal point of its wheel of student competencies.

While the education policies in Finland stem from the development of the whole child, many policymakers in the United States and elsewhere often misconstrue the notion of “backwards planning” by focusing on narrow, knowledge-based outcomes. Tangible results from high-stakes tests, many believe, mark a school as successful, or of high quality.

Yet what society requires from an educated person has changed since public education was first introduced. Today, what is most important in assessing the quality of an educational system is the level at which its graduates successfully participate in society. More than ever, students need to be equipped with relevant skills and outlooks in order to adapt within a rapidly changing world.

The FNBE recognizes this and the New Core Curriculum in Finland is designed to introduce students to the world they will encounter as adults. “Learning,” it states, is “an inseparable dimension of an individual's growth as a human being as well as in the construction of the good life of a community.” Therefore the focus of school is “learning to learn, intercultural competence as well as participation, influencing [the] construction of a sustainable future.”

Supporting individual growth inevitably supports society. Doing so requires the loosening of extrinsic controls and the inspiration of students’ intrinsic motivation so that when they leave school they can be voluntary, autonomous, reflective, and active participants in their further development and, consequently, the development of society. The promotion of lifelong learning also encourages social mobility; if students know how to learn, then they are more capable of adapting to new learning environments.

In the United States, where there are fifty state curricula, focus on future societal needs tends toward creating “citizens and employees adequately prepared for the 21st century” (in the words of the National Education Association) rather than sustainability, democracy, and global citizenship. American “21st-century skills” are often developed to please employers. In fact, about twenty states have teamed with a private company--one sponsored by for-profit educational enterprises, toy companies and the world’s largest children’s media multinational--to develop curriculum.

Raising scores on standardized tests, the de facto goal of the American system, tells us something about an educational system but not much about the future of a society. As educators we applaud the Finnish decision to focus not on international rankings but on more meaningful desired outcomes.

The Finnish National Board of Education has recognized that modern society demands thinkers, not performers; lifelong learners, not passive workers. Schools should be places that allow students to develop as individuals through problem solving, inquiry, collaboration, and relevant tasks so students are prepared to address current issues.

(Translation of New Core Curriculum from Liisa Jääskeläinen “The Curriculum Reform Of Basic Education Gives Strong Mandate To Global Educators In Finland,” 2015, http://www.sinergiased.org/index.php/revista/item/65-curriculum-reform#n....)

Heidi T. Katz, U.S. Fulbright-University of Turku Graduate fellow and Patrick J. Walsh, U.S. Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching 2015-16, University of Jyväskylä