Par Stenback, former Education Minister of Finland, spoke at the University of Puerto Rico and pointed out how the Finnish school system, once a poor performer, has become an international gold standard in education:
1) Education policy is based on research.
2) A National Board, not a political party, decides education reforms and programs.
3) The school system is managed at the Municipal level, in decentralized fashion.
4) Teachers are rigorously and continously educated.
Well, as far as the Puerto Rican non-educational system goes, there's the problem! We base education policy on money-grubbing wet dreams concocted by political hacks, centralize to the point where no one knows anything and as far as preparing teachers, We fail to do it before they are licensed and even worse afterwards.
Let Me dismiss teachers first, since they're so anxious to cut-and-run at the drop of (My) hat. Stenback notes that in Finland, teachers, because of their high standards of education, are "as respected as doctors and lawyers." There's another problem! The last lawyer people respected here was Perry Mason. So an educational solution to the teacher crisis could be: Give lawyers more respect! (This will appear as legislation before the end of the semester; bank on it.)
So rigorous are the standards for teachers in Finland that only 12% of applicants get in. Look at that number again: 12%. In Puerto Rico, if you have a pulse you can get into any Education program, especially if you've worked your way down from Natural Sciences to Business and past Humanities. Education is the final refuge of the incompetent, the barely literate, the kind of student We tend to churn out like so much drab sausage.
Is it salaries that attract prime candidates to teaching? Not in Finland, where teachers make an "average" salary. What fuels the Finnish system is focus, dedication and respect. In other words, three things Our miseducational system lacks.
We believe that centralizing is better...to pack needless jobs into a bloated cancerous system. We believe outsiders with the teaching experience of Ronald McDonald should be in charge of Education. (Victor "Delictor" Fajardo, anyone?) And if an educator is to run the freakin' mess, he or she is saddled with employee overbloat, political offal and a bureaucracy gone dead.
As for an educational policy to teach Our children, We think research is like cooking bowling balls: It can be done, but what's the point? One example: My son's first-grade class is being taught grammar...in both English and Spanish. Allow Me to point out that they are not the same, that in fact, they have often diametrically-opposed rules. Despite over 45 years' worth of studies done here, in the U.S. and abroad that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that grammar can only be taught after a language is used well, We thumb Our noses at the collective wisdom of actual teachers and continue to shove English grammar into Our children's heads, way too soon. Any wonder We are the ONLY country--the ONLY damn country in the world--that teaches a language for 12 YEARS and doesn't master the damn thing?
Stenback pointed out it took Finland 20 years to go from near-worst to near-first, 20 years of focused, determined effort that placed education as a top government priority permanently. Not as lip service, like We do; not for politicking, as We do and certainly not for cash handouts from Uncle Sam because--get this!--Finland doesn't get cash handouts from anybody!
It took Finland 20 years to become a global education standard, with a focused government, with a focused, research-based educational policy, with a rigurous and ongoing teacher-training program and with a community-based control level. We have already lost at least 25 years, most likely more. Add another 20-25 to that and what are We looking at? (For Our math teachers out there, the answer is a range from 45 on up...) Can We wait another 20 years to develop the world-class education We need to compete as equals on the global stage?
Twenty years from now, We may be asking the same question...from the same starting point.
The Jenius Has Spoken.