Unlike in the United States, which has taken the opposite approach, Scandinavian countries have established national curriculum standards but have set fairly broad mandates, letting authority trickle down as close to the classroom as possible. Local school officials have the flexibility to provide education services according to their students’ unique needs and interests, as long as the basic policy framework is followed.
Therefore, teachers are extremely autonomous in their work. So are students. For example, internet-content filtering in the three countries is based largely on a philosophy of student responsibility. Internet filters rarely exist on school computers, other than for protection from viruses or spam. As a school librarian in Copenhagen said, “The students understand that the computers are here for learning.”
Julie Walker, executive director of the American Association of School Librarians, said these countries see students as having “the filter in their heads.”
Walker also noted that while “the U.S. holds teachers accountable for teaching, here they hold the students accountable for learning.”
Also noted was an emphasis to inquiry and project-based learning as opposed the testing/accountability style of the US:
In the Danish system, the notion of grading is a foreign concept, with competitive grading postponed until high school. Students are judged in relation to their own growth, rather than that of others, and they are continuously evaluated. Teachers also write individual learning plans for each student after these evaluations.
Project-based learning begins in the first grade, and teachers work with students to structure their learning through a process described by one educator as “dialogue and trust.” Assessment is achieved primarily through a dialogue with each student, as is communication with parents about their child’s progress.
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.
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.
. . .
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.
While many aspects of what they describe can be seen in some SD schools, it appears to be very different at the systemic level compared to our schools. We tend to look at schools within a few miles to compare our own schools, but in today’s connected world we should broaden our scope by taking closer note of schools halfway across the globe.