It is time for Finland not only to export its education ideas, but to also embrace an even larger vision that can help Finland achieve its true destiny among nations.
It is time for Finland to serve as the Global Intellectual Capital Exchange of Education.
My wife was born in Tokyo, and my eight-year-old was born in New York City.
Inspired by the writings of Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg, I came to Finland as a Fulbright Scholar to study its world-renowned school system, to give my son an experience in a Finnish school, and to lecture on education and media at the University of Eastern Finland in Joensuu.
During five months as a Finnish public school father, and as a classroom observer inside the university’s teacher training school and other schools, I have been completely amazed by how good Finnish comprehensive schools are.
Unlike in many other nations, children in Finland are given a rich, wide curriculum, a highly professionalized teacher force with freedom and autonomy, constant outdoor play breaks, and classroom environments that are warm, safe, respectful, supportive and collaborative.
Children in Finland are tested every day, not by faceless electronic screens, but through constant individualized observations and “check-ins” with real-life teachers who help them learn and grow at their own pace, without fear, toxic stress, cram schools or overwork, all of which may be of little use to authentic learning and instead destructive to childhood.
While much of the rest of the world is flooding schools with counter-productive stress, privatization and low-quality standardized testing, Finland leads the world with its evidence-based, child-centered approach.
I have come to realize that Finland’s historic achievements in delivering educational excellence and equity to its children are the result of a national love of childhood, a profound respect for teachers as trusted professionals, and a deep understanding of how children learn best.
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. Many students reportedly feel bored or disengaged from school.
But times of struggle also open doors of great opportunity, and Finland’s educational foundation can help it become an even stronger, more confident nation on the world stage. As French philosopher Albert Camus wrote, “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.” My Finnish friends call it sisu. And Finland's schools are its bedrock strength, and an inspiration to the world.
Some of Finland’s educational strengths are culture-specific and probably cannot be directly “exported.” But many others may in fact be “global education best practices” that can inspire educators, students and parents around the world.
Finland has the credibility and the authority among the world’s educators not just to share its own insights, but to collect and share educational insights, innovations, research and best practices from all over the world – from the United States, Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas, and from every school system.
The initiative would support existing programs by the OECD, the UN and other organizations, would analyze global educational best practices in a real-world context, and examine the interplay between education and other social policies.
Finland should seize this opportunity for global leadership.
New York and London are home to stock exchanges that made them the financial capitals of the world. Chicago’s mercantile exchange helped it become a global mega-city. Belgium’s diamond exchanges helped that nation become a financial powerhouse.
Finland should become the Global Intellectual Capital Exchange of Education, the headquarters hub and center of new global thinking, ventures, research and partnerships on improving childhood education and public schools around the world.
The project would collect, support, celebrate and share child-centered, evidence-based childhood education insights from all corners of the Earth, in partnership with the world’s best educational experts. International intellectual capital and education knowledge would be spread by Finland across borders and cultures to stimulate reform, innovation and best practices in schools and teacher training programs around the developed and developing worlds.
The project can support existing programs to export Finnish education, and showcase Finland's greatest educational achievements for its new basic school curriculum rollout in 2016, and for the nation’s 100th Birthday in 2017 and beyond.
The result will better schools for Finland, and for the world.
As Robert F. Kennedy told an audience of Tokyo university students in 1962, “The age of greatness is before us, and we, joined as brothers, can meet our responsibilities and obligations and make this world a better place for ourselves and for our children.”
Finland’s own Age of Greatness may be just around the corner.
It is time for Finland to inspire the world.
When it does, the children of Finland, and all the world’s children, will inherit a much brighter future.
William Doyle is a 2015-2016 Fulbright Scholar and New York Times bestselling author and TV producer from New York City. This past semester he joined the faculty of the University of Eastern Finland and lectured on “The Schools of Tomorrow,” and his child attended a Finnish public school. As a corporate executive, he managed over $200,000,000 in marketing and programming budgets for media giant HBO.