Thursday, December 10, 2015

Finnish Mathematicians Were Blowing Whistle on the Finnish Education Hype


Finnish Mathematicians Were Blowing Whistle on the Finnish Education Hype.

Introductory Words

When I speak of shortcomings of Japanese school education, some people sometimes react by saying that "Why you so criticize your own country?"

Needless to say, education is nothing more than a part of the country's system, but some people mistake criticism of the school system for the criticism of the whole nation.

Although the below discussion on Finnish education may sound negative, I respect Finland as a nation, of course. I am going to just discuss the recent hype about the Finnish education.

The Global Hype about Finnish Education

Finnish education has attracted a lot of attention of the global community of educators since the early 2000s. Here in Japan, it has a good reputation among people due to the enthusiastic promotion of education experts and the media coverage with the banner of "The World Best Education."

To be honest, however, most people are just having a vague idea about it and unsure what is really going on there. And I was no exception.

Last year, when I was struggling to argue against the NY Times, the people, who thankfully helped spreading my opinion in the US, also informed me of a few reports and opinions about the Finnish education hype.

I would like to present some of them as below.

1. The PISA survey tells only a partial truth of Finnish children's mathematical skills

2. Severe shortcomings in Finnish mathematics skills

I'm not very sure about the educational situation and the context of the debate in Finland, but there has been a controversy there, which doesn't seem negligible.

Less Than 20% of Finnish Students can Solve Fractions

Finlanders' achievement in another international assessment test, which is TIMSS, is way lower than that in OECD PISA.

Dr. Richard Askey, an American mathematician, made a report on the below TIMSS question on fractional calculation.

He takes note of the mistakes they made as well as its percents correct by country (Finland: 16% Japan: 65% for your information) and argues that Finnish students possibly have no idea about what fractions really are.

Do educators, who highly play up Finland's education and PISA-type ability, know these facts?
At least, nobody in Japan seeks education through which less than 20% of junior high students can solve fractions.

(The below part was added on 2nd of June, 2016 and revised later on 18th January, 2017.)

Is This "Pyrrhic Victory"?

In April 2016, a Finnish news report deplored that the Finnish students' math skill is not enough for daily life. According to the report, tow-thirds of ninth graders (16 years old) cannot calculate percentages. 

Finnish mathematicians wrote about "Pyrrhic Victory" in the second opinion above. And I wonder that this is the price of being ranked high only in the PISA study. 

*Further discussions are available as below:

1 comment:

  1. This is a useful message. I am reminded by it of my own experience back in the 1960s when New Math was on the wane in the United States. I spent then a semester in England and had an opportunity to visit schools there. My own attitude at the time, which was widely shared, was that British math teaching was far superior to our own. But I found evidence in my classroom visits that their excellent texts in no way reflected what was going on in those classrooms. Their problems were very little different from our own. I continue to be convinced that instructor quality ranges widely and is far more significant a factor in learning than curriculum and textual materials.


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