While we reform our education system... A few words on PBL

... Finland is doing the same thing! How differently, though...

While we are (not) discussing the right of middle schools (or junior high schools as they'd be called in AmE) to exist, Finland – which for years has been an unsurpassed leader in the quality of education – is thinking of placing skills at the heart of schooling in more or less the same way as traditional subjects. This idea has been prompted by a growing need for adjusting the way we teach to the digital era we all live in (how thoughtful and open-minded!) Apparently, Finland seems to have noticed the fact that in 21st century we do not longer rely on books and school to gain knowledge. The world around us is one big source of knowledge – from museums and galleries to smart phones. One needs to be quite a smart manager to know where and how to find information they are looking for. Moreover, you need some skills to be critical of the information that is all around.

This new approach is called PBLproject-based learning* and is targeted at teaching skills like critical thinking, learning to understand and think, collaboration, communication, teamwork, self-managed study or technical abilities to operate diferent software. (If you haven't heard about it before and  need a more in-depth info on PBL – scroll down – you'll find links to articles and videos on PBL at the end of this post.)

*metoda nauczania rozwiązywania problemów or nauczanie problemowe

It is not that Finland has embraced new technology recently. There aren't any restrictions for students to use mobile devices at school, doesn't matter if they are smart phones or laptops – it is actually promoted as they are an important source of information. Children are taught to use them as research tools.

As with everything, there are some worries about PBL, too. One argument against it is that it may result in a weaker grounding in a subject – that for example students will not gain enough fact knowledge necessary to get to university. There is also a question if PBL will not create a gap between the least and the most able students – this means that the bright students will gain advantage over the ones who still need more teacher help and guidance in order to learn.

All in all, the changes in Finnish education system are being introduced very slowly and with due care – contrary to...

A few facts about Finland's education system:

  • the biggest reforms were introduced about 50 years ago – since then Finns  have excelled in the international rankings for education
  • you will not find exams or tests in Finnish schools before the age of 16
  • children start school at the age of 7
  • there is practically no homework and summer holiday is 10 weeks long
  • about 66% of students go to college (Source - Smithsonian)
  • the difference between the weakest and the strongest students is the smallest in the world (OECD)
  • science classes are small and students perform experiments every time
  • teachers are given the same status as doctors and lawyers
  • average class size is 19 pupils

Some helpful links...

and two short videos on what PBL is and how it can work: