Can We Make Education Right?

In an article a few days ago, former NEDA Director-General, noted educator and economist Cielito Habito made a case for the education system in Finland, noting the impressive improvement in scholastic performance of the country’s students. Finnish students have the best performance in the Programme for International Assessment, a standardized test for 15 year-old students around the world. Finnish youth is the best in reading, mathematics, and science. Its education program is credited for the country’s ranking among the highest in economic competitiveness.

What I find worthy of serious contemplation is the country’s commitment to develop its youth into lifelong learners. We have said, or at least wished as much for all our Teammates. The same commitment drives the Firm to consider feasible alternatives to develop a culture consistent with a truly learning organization.

For administrators and those tasked with initiating, implementing, and monitoring learning alternatives, an easy tongue-in-cheek solution would be to simply imitate and implement the Finnish model. The enormity of the task sinks in just as fast. Can the Philippine education system approximate Finland’s? It is almost tempting to offer a quick assessment without going through so much detail. Based on population alone, our per-capita investment in education is already a disadvantage. Finland’s less than 6 million population will be lost in the Philippines over a hundred million. This simply means less learning assets for the average Filipino youth. As long as there are comfort rooms converted into faculty rooms, insufficient and overpopulated classrooms, and lack of textbooks and learning materials, learning at the earliest levels will be seriously challenged.

Finland’s pedagogical model will make most regulators squirm simply because of its non-reliance on traditional approaches. Less classroom hours and classroom days, shortest class hours and shortest school days, no student ranking, “students taught not to pass tests, but to find happiness” –  these are all strange concepts alien to most, and difficult to implement. While our teachers are still struggling to earn decent pay, Finnish teachers are highly paid and held in the same lofty esteem as other professionals.

The most serious obstacles, and yet virtually free are attitude and commitment. It may be almost impossible to expect a massive culture change, guided leadership, and sustained commitment to lifelong learning on a vast scale, like the national milieu. There are just too many moving parts, not to mention political posturing, budget constraints, and regulations.

At the Firm level, however, what Finland does is doable. We can assure our Teammates that we are just as committed to lifelong learning and will provide the resources worthy of a learning organization. Leadership will be sustained, but we will also need everybody to embrace this culture. The mechanics are simple. Everything else is in the attitude.

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