Opinion: Lessons learned from Scandinavian schools

As a La Trobe University bachelor of education student, I spent the first semester of this year on student exchange at Malmo University in Sweden.

During my stay, I visited several Swedish and Finnish schools and experienced and observed many differences between the education system there and here in Australia.

Sweden encourages thinking outside the box and places emphasis on group work, making connections between disciplines and encouraging individual thinking. 

In recent times, Finnish education has provided standalone subjects with little overlap, and where students are not encouraged to move beyond the boundaries of the subject content.

Each of the Finnish schools I visited offered at least three breaks during the day.

They also forced the students to go outside, even if it was freezing.

Two of the schools offered a 15-minute break after every 45-minute class in an effort to allow students to clear their head and get some fresh air.

Some school days might have a total of only three hours and 45 minutes work in a five-hour day. 

This is significantly different from Australia's five-hour days for children as young as five and six.

Finland and Sweden appear to be the only countries in the world that provide a free, healthy lunch to every student, every day.

The methodology is fairly straight forward, in that all students begin learning with an equal nutritional basis and the social interactions that happen at the table can't be taught in any other context.

All teachers praise this system and cringe when they hear some students in Australia come to school with a lunchbox full of processed sugar, void of vegetables and sometimes completely empty.

There are obviously cultural differences between Aussie kids and Finnish kids.

But I witnessed attitudes and principles that stood out to me in Finland that were never spoken of by the teachers.

I think they were not mentioned because it was part of the Finnish culture and not simply an educational philosophy taught at a university.

An example of this was that teachers were not constantly trying to control the class.

So often I see Australian teachers putting so much energy into “shooshing” the class.

Asking them to sit still, empty their hands, look at the teacher, sit up straight or put their hands on their heads.

And when they don't perform to the standards the teacher presumes are essential for learning, those students are told they do not match up.

In Finland, I didn’t once see teachers asking students to do or be something – other than to complete the tasks given and be involved in class discussions.

I also witnessed a beautiful respect for students.

Teachers spoke to, and treated students, as if they knew a lot and were capable of great things.

Finnish teachers always used soft, calm voices and never appeared to make statements with negative tones.

During my Scandinavian visit, I saw some great things that I think could work well in Australia.

And while I am not the one to change those existing structures alone, I can control my own attitudes and behaviours.

My emotional intelligence has certainly been challenged by what I saw.

Daniel Osment is a Bachelor of Education student at La Trobe University.