Millions of parents spend countless hours trying to figure out how to help their children get better grades, better teachers or better schools, extra tuition, revision books, even tutors. Here, we contrast Finnish education system, which only has one exam at the end of high school, to Kenyan system, which has exams severally in a term.
Finland is considered to have one of the leading education systems in the world. Finnish students consistently score near the top in the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, for reading, mathematics and science. The 2012 PISA results tell us that in these three subjects combined Finland ranks third after Korea and Japan.
The Kenyan educational system has been called intensive. Students learn for several years starting at around 4 years old till 19 before going to college. They carry a gazillion books, tones of homework, and holidays spent in class too. Although quite concentrated, many of the diaspora say that it have learned them a lot and going majuu the classes been easier to handle.
For some, education in Finland is utopia: a dreamland where teaching is the most desired profession, authorities trust schools and political parties agree on the direction of educational reforms. In our beloved country however, teachers are not treated with the pristine they should. They often go unpaid and stories of teachers and university lecturers going on strike are not uncommon. They are treated like low wage earners.
In Finland children don’t start school until they are 7 years old. They have less homework than their peers in other countries. A child’s socioeconomic background is less of an impediment to academic performance. And there is only one standardized test, which is administered in the final year of high school. Kenyan kids have exams every end of term, sometimes, even every week. KCPE and KCSE are major exams that somewhat determine children’s futures in our country. Your economic background here will also determine the school you attend, as such the quality of education you get.
There are three things that have positively affected the quality of Finnish schools. First, Finland has built a school system that has over time strengthened educational equity. This means early childhood education for all children, funding all schools so they can better serve those with special educational needs, access to health and well-being services for all children in all schools, and a national curriculum that insists that schools focus on the whole child rather than narrow academic achievement. Here however, although primary school is free, there is a significant lack of resources. Basic things like proper classrooms, books, and teachers are a strain in many public schools. Some being so poor they hold their classes under trees, so when it is raining, school is cancelled.
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Since kids are always in class, means that teachers also have a lot of work to do. They barely get time to build professional networks, share ideas and best practices. Teachers in Finland have time to work together with their colleagues during the school day. According to the most recent data provided by the OECD the average teaching load of upper primary school teachers in Finland is less than a quarter of what it is in Kenya.
Play constitutes a significant part of individual growth and learning in Finnish schools. Every class must be followed by a 15-minute recess break so children can spend time outside on their own activities. Schooldays are also shorter in Finland, and primary schools keep the homework load to a minimum so students have time for their own hobbies and friends when school is over. In Kenya, classes are back to back, and often, in boarding schools there is also ‘preps’, where students are expected to be in class. There are only two breaks in the day, break-time for tea and snacks and the lunch break at 1pm. Schools ‘end’ in the evening and start early in the morning.
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Some aspects of the Kenyan school system are not helpful in improving education quality and equity. First, education in the Kenya is too much defined by testing and data. If getting the data using frequent standardized tests occupies up to one-third of all available time to teach, that will alone prevent students from making the marks they should.
Second, Kenyan education places too much faith in marketplace choice, which parents have because of expanded access to charter schools. This weakens the public school structure that is fundamental to many successful education systems. Whatever a parents’ wages are, it will determine the type of education your child gets.
Finally, more students in Kenya have novice or nonprofessional teachers in their classrooms today than ever. Frequent turnover of teachers in thousands of Kenyan schools undermines the entire education system. To be a teacher in Kenya is a calling. It is a known fact they are not the best paid, and iften have to go under the same impoverished state as their students.
What would be the way forward then? Kenya can’t become Finland, but there is a lot we can learn about what works and what doesn’t.
One affordable and smart step would be to terminate policies and practices that prevent Kenyan teachers from teaching what matters most to their students. Redesigning current punitive accountability for schools and abolishing unnecessary standardized tests would remove a big burden from schools and leave teachers with more time to focus on real learning.
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The ultimate test for the Kenyan education system will be whether it can bring equity to the forefront of education policies. When poverty explains up to half of student achievement, schools must have measures to better cope with the harmful consequences that disadvantaged family backgrounds have on teaching and learning in many schools. Enhancing equity has been one key to success in Finland.
As you complete your national exams, think about what that means for your life. We should really move away from training students to be employed-no wonder all job spheres are now saturated. There are more employees coming up every day, and very meager numbers of employers coming up. Life has so much more above books. It is time we taught it in schools too. We should teach them, not train them to cram.
By Pasi Sahlberg and Rhoda Okono