The Wall Street Journal (in “What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart?” ) describes a Finnish approach to learning that’s “simple but not easy,” emphasizing “well-trained teachers and responsible children.” What does this look like in action? As WSJ reports:
Finnish teachers pick books and customize lessons as they shape students to national standards. "In most countries, education feels like a car factory. In Finland, the teachers are the entrepreneurs," says (Andreas) Schleicher of the Paris-based OECD, which began the international student test in 2000.
One more factor is worth nothing: teacher collaboration. Our research about real-world project based learning led us to interview a cross-grade teaching team from Oulu, Finland, about the development of a project to foster inquiry among primary students. Teachers wanted to encourage young students to pay attention and ask questions about the real world, so they had them use camera phones (ubiquitous in this mobile-phone-loving country) to snap photos en route to school. One student team got curious about local recycling habits and used their photos (along with GPS and a networked learning environment) to gather more data. They wound up advising the school on how to expand its recycling efforts—applying their understanding to an authentic problem. Pasi Mattila, one of the teachers who designed the project, calls this kind of approach “meaningful and motivating learning.”
If students grow accustomed to learning that is meaningful and motivating right from the primary grades, it shouldn't surprise anyone when they continue to excel academically as teens.