Fight to the Finnish

We wrap up Finland Week with a tribute to the impeccable timing of Diane Ravitch, who picked this day of all days to repost this paean to Finland’s school system, written by William Doyle, a scholar-in-residence at the University of Eastern Finland.

Donald Trump is promoting “school choice” as he vows to improve the American education system. To achieve this vision, he should start by putting his incoming Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on a plane to world education superpower Finland to see what school choice means in its most powerful form — the choice from among numerous, great, neighborhood schools anywhere in the country.

Unfortunately for Ravitch and Doyle, they apparently didn’t get the memo over at the Washington Post, who chose today to publish “Finland’s schools were once the envy of the world. Now, they’re slipping.”

The Post asked Pasi Sahlberg, the go-to guy on Finnish education policy, what was going on. He had a number of theories, but I found this one the most interesting:

According to some national statistics, most teenagers in Finland spend more than four hours a day on the Internet (not including time with TV) and that the number of heavy Internet and other media users (more than eight hours a day) is increasing just as it is doing in the U.S., Canada and beyond. According to emerging research on how the Internet affects the brain — and thereby learning — suggests three principal consequences: shallower information processing, increased distractibility, and altered self-control mechanisms. If this is true, then there is reason to believe that increasing use of digital technologies for communication, interaction and entertainment will make concentration on complex conceptual issues, like those in mathematics and science, more difficult. Interestingly, most countries are witnessing this same phenomenon of digital distraction among their youth.

The reason I find it interesting is because when Sahlberg was asked what Finland will do to address its problems, he said there will be “more student-centered pedagogies, strengthened student engagement in school, more physical activity for all students, and more technology in classrooms.” (emphasis added)

To be fair, Finland does have a way to go to match us in shallow information processing.