Finnish children do not appear for examinations until the last year of school.
The best practices must indeed be adopted. But we must stop emulating foreign models blindly and start thinking of developing our own Indian model of education, keeping in mind our diversity, our disparities, our peculiar cultural temperaments and regional histories. Very recently, the Prime Minister’s Office had sent a note to the human resources development ministry to study the Finnish model of school education, focusing on the flexibility of curriculum, individual pace of learning and high-salaried, rigorously trained “quality” teachers. It all seems so eminently imitable, but can we really simulate or implement this model in our current situation and circumstances?
Most of the strategies and measures that have been introduced in Finnish schools to make the performance of its students the envy of countries around the globe are suited to the size of its population, the relatively equitable distribution of its wealth, its clean uncluttered natural environment and the high standard of health and nutrition of its children. Finnish children start school fairly late in life. Indian children, however, are starting school earlier and earlier, partly because it is a practical need. With the joint family’s breakdown and the proliferation of nuclear families with working parents, playschools serve as crèches where some learning happens too. Besides, Indians feel that the sooner their children start formal schooling, the better their chances of success in a competitive world. While Indian children are made to slog over their books all through the year, their Finnish counterparts enjoy long holidays and recesses when they go camping and biking and learn from life and nature. It would be wishful thinking if we expect all this to be replicated in our country.
Finnish children do not appear for examinations until the last year of school. This model would automatically cut out the stress that our children face right through their school lives and on the eve of public examinations, and instantly hit the giant coaching industry. This is certainly desirable, provided that effective teaching and learning goes on inside our schools. However, our children (and their parents) have been nurtured on homework, drill, private tuition, practice tests and examinations. Our teachers too have been trained to prepare students to attain high scores in tests and exams. In fact, the very reputation of schools and teachers depends on examination results. I wonder how people would cope if exams were suddenly removed from the school schedule. We also love the idea of “passing” and “failing”. The no-detention policy till Class 8 was introduced by the UPA government, and now there is talk that the present NDA government will reinstate the policy of detention. The Class 10 examination, which had been made optional, has already made a comeback. And the annual fuss over the list of examination “toppers” continues with great fanfare.
Next, we come to the question of the supply of teachers in India. The statistics indicate that there is a dangerous deficit of school teachers in our country. We hear of senior school students being used to teach the lower classes and in over 6,000 primary schools there are no teachers at all (District Information System for Education). A 2015 report by Unesco indicates that Nigeria is the only country that is worse off than India in “terms of teacher recruitment required to meet the education demand”. In such a situation, I wonder how the government means to create a new generation of well-educated, well-trained, well-paid and well-respected school teachers. The post-graduate B.Ed. teacher training programme was of a year’s duration till last year, when it was turned into a two-year programme. This year, the powers that be are contemplating a four-year integrated course (Finland offers a five-year one) for a teaching degree. The stated objective is that only those who are committed to school teaching would enrol for a long and intensive course. The thinking behind this move may well be sound, but it does nothing to resolve the acute teacher shortage — rather, the four-year wait to be a qualified teacher will aggravate the problem further. At this juncture, the solution should have been to have different levels of teacher-eligibility criteria. Short certificate courses would at least enable individuals to teach in schools for the time being, and they could pursue advanced courses while in service.
Surely, recruiting volunteers from different professional groups would be the practical thing to do in the present crisis. Well-educated retired people could also be considered; they would appreciate an opportunity to serve society or for a meaningful occupation to fill up the empty mornings. The problem of teacher shortage must be tackled on a war footing.
An American teacher, Nicole O’Donnell, sums up the issue really well. Fed up with what she called the “fetishisation” of Finland, she said it was “less about finding the good things to copy, and more about the wilful denial of the roots of the problems in the United States”. Ironically, this teacher was a Fulbright scholar in India, and she found more issues common between India and the US than between Finland and the US. She gave the examples of brutal histories of race and caste, the penchant for private schools, the diversity of language (“The US likes to think it has one language, but it has many”), culture and religion. Then there is poverty. Surprisingly, the United States has the highest rate of child poverty in the developed world (and Finland the lowest in Europe), so Ms O’Donnell feels that in this respect too, the US is closer to India than to Finland.
The lesson is staring us in the face. We need to look inwards and get our house in order to be able to provide quality education to every child. Admiring the Finland model is one thing, emulating it is quite another.