Friday, September 27, 2013

What is the purpose of education?

When I meet Finns, the conversation generally goes "So why did you come to Finland?" by which they are really wondering "Why on Earth would you come to this country when you could go to any other place on the globe?" (they have a big inferiority complex that makes them think their country is terrible even when it is considered one of the best education systems, is one of the happiest countries, and was even deemed the best country in the world by Newsweek).  When I tell them I came to learn about their excellent traditions of education and environmental concern, they concede that "yeah, I guess we are good at that."

Most of them.  I have had many interesting conversations with people in the education department here (kasvatustiede, from kasvatus "education" and tiede which translates as "science" but is used like the suffix "-ology"), and a few people actually wish their system was more like the USA.  Not the entire system, but parts of it.  The driving idea behind Finnish education is that it is a way to equalize the playing field for all, regardless of family socioeconomic background.  Their system therefore strives to literally provide an equal and identical education for all.  The problem some Finns see with this is that it does not allow superb students to excel because they receive the same education as everyone else.  I have heard that there are no "gifted" programs, few magnet schools, only small amounts of add-on learning for bright students, and skipping grades is discouraged as it is thought to hinder proper social development.

Excerpt from 2009 PISA test scores, showing Finland as #3 in the world.
If it is too small to read, go check out the source
All this got me thinking about what "educational success" actually means because Finland seems to define it as giving everyone equal opportunities to be useful members of society (by spreading resources where they are needed), while the USA seems to be most concerned with creating a society that outputs new innovations (by focusing resources in areas that are likely to succeed).  It is impossible to compare the "success" of these two countries using a single metric if their goals are different.

Perhaps there is an underlying goal in providing education, and the difference in the USA and Finland is just different philosophies on how to get there.  Is the goal to increase economic wellbeing?  Is it supposed to help the state or individuals (or both)?  Is it some absolute amount of wealth, or is it compared to other nations?  Is the goal to increase lifespans (by educating doctors and creating new technologies)?  Is it to become technologically advanced?  Is it to help people understand their culture and role in it?  Their place in the universe?  Is it to give people the tools to secure their own happiness?  Is it some combination of these things?  Something else?


I am curious what other people think about the goal of education, so please respond to the poll on the right.  If you have any further thoughts, go ahead and leave a comment.  Thanks!

1 comment:

  1. Hey Alistar,
    I think the main goal of education is to develop citizens who are intelligent and knowledge in many areas so that they can make the country better socially, economically, and morally.