Approximately 93 percent of students in Finland graduate from high school, a whopping 17.5 percent higher than the United States. So what are we doing wrong?
The average elementary school student in the United States gets 30 minutes of recess, while the average student in Finland gets 75 minutes, and a 15 minute break after every lesson. New York City has the same number of teachers as Finland, but nearly double the amount of students. The average student in the United States starts school at age 4, while the average student in Finland starts at age 7. There is only one mandatory standardized test in Finland, that is not taken until age 16. Although sounding counter intuitive, Finland is ranked number one in the education system.
Our team at Princebury is producing a documentary on the education system. We met with Escondido Charter High School to take a glimpse at an education system that is pushing the boundaries of our Westernized ideals. Looking up to Finland as a big brother, this high school has an education system that not only works, but has the numbers at the end of the day to prove it. In 1996, Escondido Charter’s President and Founder, Dennis “Coach” Snyder made it his personal mission to create a different kind of high school. With a strong emphasis on fundamentals and individual passions, they build from the ground up with every single student. When meeting with Mr. Snyder, passion rubbed off on you as you shook his hand. This was more than a job for him, this was a dream.
After walking onto the campus, you could immediately sense the calmness in the air. The students radiated a sense of independence and passion. This, indeed, was not your average American high school. We met with a small body of students in a entrepreneurship class to sit and talk to them about their experience and insight on their education. It only took one look into one of those students eyes to see they loved where they were. Bullying, lack of counseling, inadequate teachers, poor quality of lectures and lessons… these were just a few things that lead those students to the seats they sat in that day. They were there to fulfill their passions and prepare for their careers.
In the early 1930’s, a young girl at the age of 8 was taken to a psychologist by her mother for her lack of focus and under-performance at school. The girl was fidgety, and never paid attention in class, and her grades showed it. The teachers assumed she had a severe learning disorder and urged her mother to take immediate action. Little did her mother know, she was potentially putting her daughter’s future at stake. After endless questioning and analyzing, the psychologist asked to speak to the mother outside of the room away from the little girl. As he left the room with the mother, he turned on the radio. Once out of the room, he waited a moment and asked the mother to peek inside and watch her daughter. With awe, the mother watched her daughter rise to her feet and start to dance around the room as if it was her natural habitat. It was then the psychologist urged the mother to enroll her daughter into dance school. Today we know this young lady as Gillian Lynne: choreographer of “Cats” and “Phantom of the Opera”. If her mother had taken solely the advice of the education system, she would have put her daughter on medication and sent her back to school. Gillian was not a poster child, she was a dancer. It took one man to see what others assumed was a disability, and allow what came naturally for her to emerge.
Gillian Lynne’s story should not be the exception. Our generation and the one’s after us should always have full range of choice: from getting a Ph.D to being an artist. It’s education systems like Escondido Charter that, like Gillian’s psychologist, bring out the very essence of a passion and continue to build a path for these students in the direction they naturally follow, not the path the education system tells them to follow.