What Finland is Trying to Tell the World by Reforming to Phenomenon-Based Learning.


Over the past 50 years Finnish education system outperformed almost all other education systems around the world. In Pearson global report on education 2012, Finland topped other countries. The report considers major factors in education, such as expenditure per student, GDP, graduation rates, etc. In (PISA) assessment Finland regularly topped the list. In the last two sequences of PISA testing, Finnish students’ performance in mathematics, reading and scientific literacy ranked them out of the top positions. However, all education reformers are trying to fathom the success of Finnish education system and replicate such success into theirs.

In his website, Pasi Sahlberg, -author of the book “Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?” – discussed the critical success factors of Finland’s education system. Under the title “What the U.S. can’t learn from Finland about education reform” (Published in Washington Post, April 17, 2012) Sahlberg wrote about Funding of schools, Well-being of children, Education as a human right, all as issues that require attention when discussing equality-based model of Finland. School autonomy and teacher professionalism as in his post are dominant factors behind strong educational performance in Finland. Schools in Finland are delegated much power and authority embracing a loose guiding framework from the central government. Teaching is a prestigious profession that has the same status as medicine, engineering and law professions. This autonomy of schools and appreciation of teachers lead to a variation of educational practices that are effictively tailored to local needs of each city in Finland.

The Reform: Phenomenon-Based Learning

Finland will go through a new education reform that will take over in 2016. What is called Phenomenon-Based Learning will be complementing traditional subjects teaching. What seems odd about this reform, is that it indicates that Finland apparently doesn’t have international test scores as a top priority. According to The Pearson global report on Education 2014, Finland retreated to 5th place. Educationalist in Finland are more attentive to invest in what is the best for their learners and not for the test results. Thinking outside the box of tests and international ranking, Finland’s new Education reform represent a fundamental change at what might others think of as the wrong time. The reform places preparing students for careers, industry and globalized society at its heart.

The Phenomenon or Topic based learning, which is planned to be conducted over periods of time during the year and could be paced in projects, is the old new in Finland education. For more than three decades, Finnish schools had multiplicity of Phenomenon-based learning. So what new does the reform bring to the table? What will change in 2016 is that it will be obligatory for all basic schools for seven to 16-year-olds. The period length will be adaptably planned by schools. This again put emphasis on the school autonomy as a success driver for the reform.

Why Phenomenon-Based Learning?

Phenomenon-Based Learning tackle a topic from different subject areas’ perspectives. This method will entail a rich learning experience which is relevant to learners’ life. The interdisciplinary learning, can be conducted in a simple way. This is made by linking similar knowledge areas between different subjects and introducing them at the same slot of the academic year. This develops awareness on how curriculum areas intersect to compose the broader frame of knowledge.

More sophisticated interdisciplinary approach will deepen learning. This occurs when we go beyond simply linking different subject to applying what’s so called organizing centers and essential questions to plan topic teaching. Depth, integrity and coherence of learning will provoke higher order thinking skills. Learners will be profoundly motivated and involved. The more in-depth learning will enable the students compare different subjects areas and bridge them. They will be able to answer the most persistent question of “Why do we learn this?”. This will lead to a meaningful involvement putting exploration at the forefront of the learning process. One great thing about Finland’s reform is that learners will contribute to planning their phenomenon based learning experience and furthermore assessing this experience.

The other side of the coin is teachers. Teachers will have to step out of their comfort zone to embark more powerful thinking that goes beyond the boundaries of their curriculum area and intrigue a deep collegial collaboration flourishing a learning community and collaborative culture base in the school.

While Finland is proceeding with its new reform, educationist around the world will have any eye on how the reform will evolve and whether it will turn into another lesson to learn from Finland’s education. Regardless of how this reform will evolve and how effective it will be, an implicit message is sent to the whole world by Finns educationist which put it all in a nutshell “The world is transforming around us and we need to transform our education systems accordingly, knowledge and skills can’t be appreciated by learners unless approached in a meaningful way that makes their learning experience purposeful, in a context where learners have a voice in what and how they learn”

Copyright 2015 Bashaer M. Al Kilani


1 Comment

  1. Pingback: What Finland is Trying to Tell the World by Reforming to Phenomenon-Based Learning. | Voices and Choices

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