School. School shapes how the next generation thinks and act. That is its purpose. Students spend thirty hours a week repeating the same routine, listening to the same teachers in the same classrooms with the same people. They spend more time at school than they spend doing anything else. This makes school the most important part of a young person’s life, a part that shapes the decisions and actions they make as adults. Adolescents are constantly told by adults that they are the future, that their decisions will make or break the world, but there is hypocrisy in the fact that the system that educates them and leads them to make these decisions is not changing with the times. The current New Zealand school system is no longer relevant or effective, and there are many improvements that can be made. In making these improvements inspiration can be drawn from one of the most successful education systems in the world, Finland. A school environment that better reflects the modern workplace, shorter school days and less emphasis on homework are all attributes of the Finnish school system that New Zealand would benefit hugely from.
NZ’s current school system is outdated. It was created hundreds of years ago to prepare working class citizens for traditional professions. Students would leave school to work at an office or a factory, hence the rows of desks, the all-knowing leader at the front, and the bleak, boring buildings, colors, and routine, but the workplace has changed. The world is now in need of people who can think creatively, innovatively, critically, independently. People with these traits will be the future leaders of the world, therefore their education and the development of these skills should be an absolute priority, and the current system doesn’t provide this. Too often students are entering the workforce feeling unprepared; the skills they are taught in school do not match those that are required in the workforce. For example, students are rarely required to work with people with whom they have nothing in common, a skill which is crucial in almost any workplace. This contrasts hugely with the Finnish system. Finnish classes focus on collaboration, communication, and relational skills. Students are set both group and individual tasks that involve up to 3 subjects – mathematics and sciences are used in geography projects, for example, meaning they feel like they are learning skills that actually have an application in the real world. This is a perfect example of teaching tasks that prepare students for the modern workplace, something which would be hugely beneficial in the New Zealand system.
The stem of many issues with New Zealand’s schooling system is that it assumes that more is always better; everything can be solved with more homework, longer days, more pressure, more testing. But all this does is create more stressed out students, more burnt out, tired teachers, more frustration, and eventually defeatism and lack of motivation. Large classes and therefore low teacher-to-student ratios mean that students are easily distracted and feel they are not getting the assistance they need. The school day is long and the routine mundane, resulting in boredom and lack of motivation. Students have nothing to look forward to as most of their day is spent either at school or studying after. In interviewing students who have missed significant amounts of contact school time, they report that when it comes to keeping up to with school, less is more. When more work is completed, more time can be spent doing other things, therefore academic motivation increases hugely. When returning to the rigidity of a six-hour school day, however, distraction, boredom, and lack of motivation become the norm. Achieving complete focus is much more challenging simply because there is no extrinsic motivation to complete work. The majority of the day is spent at school, followed by a seemingly immense amount of homework left because class time is not spent working efficiently. School takes the same amount of time no matter how well or hard the students work, so there is no motivation to work efficiently. In contrast to this, Finland has made huge steps in increasing results with the general idea of less being more. Finnish students have only three to four classes a day and their classes are smaller; with smaller classes and therefore more one-on-one tutoring time with teachers, students are more focused and much more efficient. As found with students who spend time away, they work harder in the knowledge that they have a long afternoon to do whatever they please to look forward to. This is exactly what the current New Zealand system lacks, and something we could learn from in attempting to make a change.
Another attribute of the Finnish system, one that is envied by students around the world, is that homework is not believed to be necessary. Finnish students have the least homework in the developed world, yet they have some of the highest average grades in the world. This seems illogical however it works. This system is functional because of trust. The teachers trust the students to work hard in class for the sake of learning. The students trust the teachers to be competent and teach them the right content. Society trusts the system in place to do its job and they give education the respect it deserves. It is not a complicated idea, but it works, and I believe it would work in New Zealand. Currently, because of the aforementioned reasons surrounding motivation, the New Zealand System is mistrustful of its students. Students are unmotivated during school time and teachers cannot trust them to complete assignments and remain focused, therefore teachers believe the solution is to give them time at home to complete work. However, instead of giving them an advantage, this extra work strips students’ opportunity to rest their mind and focus on other areas of their busy lives. According to Teen Help, a mental health organization focusing on teens, 78% of students globally feel stress and anxiety as a direct result of pressure from school work. As a country with the highest youth suicide rate in the developed world, New Zealand should be focusing on managing all causes of anxiety and stress, including schoolwork, as this area is clearly an issue. Because of homework, teens allow stress as a result of school to impact their life outside of school whereas less homework would allow them to leave this stress in the classroom. Reducing or eliminating homework in the current curriculum would not only help hugely with our appalling statistics in the areas of teen mental health but, as with shortening the school day, it would increase students’ motivation by giving them a stress-free extra-curricular life to look forward to after school.
The unavoidable problem in making a system based on trust work in New Zealand is that we are very different countries. Students here are unmotivated, so how could they be trusted to work hard? However a change of system would bring a change of culture; If students felt like what we were being taught was applicable in the real world, if they had reduced classes and could stay attentive because they were motivated by more free time, and if they didn’t have as much pressure on homework they would be more willing to apply themselves. I believe that a revision of the New Zealand school curriculum with the incorporation of these ideas would lead to not only a generation that is more prepared for life as adults but a generation that is more motivated and less stressed.