U.S. educators seek lessons from Scandinavia

Exams tend to be limited as exit criteria to grade nine, along with a project-based assignment that requires students to plan, research, present, and create around a broad theme.

Finland, which does not use standardized exams, reformed its educational system in the 1990s to remove the European school inspectorate system of accountability. According to Walker, “Students use progressive inquiry and are educated through questions and problem solving.”

The change occurred because teachers felt the system stifled them and hindered creativity in the classroom.

One school in Helsinki, Aurinkolahti School, believes that learning should let children “have fun and know the joy of life.” Educational technology is used to create a community of learners who build knowledge together.

ICT abroad

It’s important to note that in all three countries, neither abject poverty nor ostentatious wealth are manifest, webcast participants heard. This is owing to strong traditions of social programs that provide young people and their families with a robust support system. “Therefore,” explained Krueger, “there is no great digital divide like in the U.S.”

About 98 percent of homes in all three countries have computers and broadband internet connections. The communities in all three countries also frequently have media centers where students and teachers can receive help from qualified professionals.

Because of this high degree of home connectivity, Sweden has decided that the government is not in charge of implementing technology in its schools.

So, home connectivity does not necessarily translate into widespread, sophisticated use of ICT in schools. Said Krueger, “We did not hear expressions about the need to make a deep-level change in the nature and structure of schooling in the three countries … nor did we get the sense that ICT was provoking efforts to reconstruct the nature and role of school in an extensively wired society.”

However, connectivity for all schools is still a goal in Denmark, and its widespread implementation is encouraged through district competitions for winning technology prizes. Denmark also has a national social-networking portal and is a leader in terms of Web 2.0 applications.

Yet, none of the three countries has implemented classroom technology to the scale of the United States. Said Ann Flynn, director of educational technology for the National School Boards Association, “Technology is less visible in all classrooms—technology such as whiteboards, student response systems, students laptops—they’re just more focused on personal productivity.”

Technology tools, such as computers, have been given primarily to teachers as a way of supporting their instruction—but there are few student-focused ICT initiatives, such as one-to-one computing programs.

Nobody’s perfect

Tuurala said that Finland, though ranked highest on the PISA exam, still “doesn’t have a clear vision as a nation as to what constitutes our national education policy. We need to ask ourselves, ‘What do we need in order to succeed in this global employability market?’”

A reoccurring theme in all countries was the need for policy makers and education administrators to have a clear vision of how technology can improve teaching and learning.

Meris Stansbury

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