By Meredith Brown
The idyllic-looking primary and lower-secondary school I attended. Photo Credit: Sofia Vettenranta
Most of you have probably at least once in your life clicked on an article or video expounding the juicy secrets behind Finland’s success in global education rankings. They paint a picture that seems almost utopian, to say the least.
In Where to Invade Next, American filmmaker Michael Moore speaks with the Finnish Education Minister of the time, Krista Kiuru, about Finland’s educational strategies. The film cuts abruptly to Kiuru stating in a matter-of-fact way, “they do not have homework”. In the next cut, Moore is interviewing a group of Finnish upper-secondary pupils, asking them how many hours they spent doing their homework the previous night. The answers range from 10-20 minutes to “usually, I don’t really do homework that much”.
These comments probably scandalise a lot of viewers, who have internalised the idea that homework is an essential, though dreary, part of going through the school system. I imagine many teenagers watching, experiencing pangs of jealousy, comparing their own drudgery of hours of homework to that of the carefree Finnish kids, who can whisk through theirs in a quarter of an hour, if they even bother to do it at all.
The truth is, even I feel scandalised and jealous. But let me tell you something. I was born and raised in Finland. I went through the exact same education system as the one described in all those videos and articles. Granted, it doesn’t always feel that way. Thinking back on my school years, I’ll admit it was pretty easy until upper-secondary. But I was smart and enjoyed coming out on top of my class (which, to be fair, only consisted of eight pupils, so it’s not really much of an achievement). Also, I should probably clarify that most Finnish classrooms aren’t quite that small!
Anyway, even then, I got homework – At least most days. And I’m pretty sure I often spent more than 15 minutes on it. In upper-secondary, where the pace and demands placed on pupils picked up considerably, I’m sure I must have spent at least an hour on homework most days, if not more. I really don’t know what the pupils in the documentary were on about, and I definitely have no idea why the Education Minister, who ought to know exactly what goes on in the country’s schools, claimed there was no homework. Unless it was, in fact, just for shock value.
Ultimately, that’s exactly what the problem is with a lot of these articles and videos. They mix the very real ways in which Finland aces its educational system, such as minimising standardised testing and the rigorous qualification protocols for would-be teachers (a Master’s degree, and, in most cases, studies in Education are mandatory) with exaggerated claims like the one about no homework. Seriously, just stick to the facts instead!