One of biggest challenges so far in writing my novel has been writing the school scenes authentically. Set half in the present and half in the past, for some scenes my main character must attend school in Finland; something I’ve never experienced myself. You wouldn’t think it would be so difficult though, would you? I have been to school after all. Surely they are all much of a muchness?
Well, that’s what I thought until I started to do some reading. I know that Finland has the highest standard of education in the world but some of the differences between schooling here and the schooling I received in the UK are amazing.
Children in Finland don’t start school until they are 6 or 7, and often don’t learn to read until this age either.
School generally starts at 08.00 and finishes at 14.00.
There is no school uniform in Finland.
Children don’t wear shoes in school.
There are no late bells in Finnish schools.
Schools often have a lounge area for children with fireplace (which is actually lit during the winter).
Children play outside for at least 30 minutes each day even in the cold winters.
Children learn to ski and ballroom dance at school.
Teachers are called by their first name, not Sir and Miss.
Children never get more than half an hours homework a night.
Finnish children generally aren’t given exams until they reach 5th grade, aged 11.
Children in Finland attend school for fewer days than 85% of other developed nations.
Education, from primary school all the way up to and including university, is free.
Hot school dinners are provided for free.
The tables the children eat at often have table cloths and small vases of flowers on them.
The school provide free transport for all children that live more than 3kms from the school. In many rural areas this means they send a taxi to people’s houses to collect and deposit the children.
After school, playgrounds are open for children to use and many of them have hot food for sale.
All teachers in Finland have a masters degree and teaching is a well respected and well paid profession.
Teachers set their own lessons and choose their own textbooks for the lessons.
The biggest difference however was the attitude to teaching. Both teachers and pupils seem to enjoy school, they trust and respect each other and the children are given enough space and freedom to learn from doing rather than simply learning from copying things from a book.
It’s a pretty different schooling experience from the one I had. The lasting memories of my secondary school involve teachers that hated children and turned a blind eye to bullying, horrible, unruly kids that frequently made teachers cry and ridiculous rules being enforced with overly dramatic consequences – I remember several boys being suspended because they’d had their hair cut too short.
It was a war; them against us. There was no trust, very little respect and plenty of attitude from both sides. I do not look back on my school days fondly. And I was one of the rule abiding kids. All this research has made me quite jealous for the schooling I never got.
That said, all of this information had been gleaned from reading articles and watching videos on the schooling system. I’m hoping to arrange to spend a day at a couple of Finnish schools to see it for myself. I wonder if the reality will match the reports. I do hope so.