Taking Lessons from Finland for the Muslim World

What if Finland’s Great Teachers Taught in Our Schools?

Finland’s teachers and the esteem in which they are held may very well be the most important ingredient for the success of the Finland schools.

By Dawood Vaid

Finland is all over the place. It is highly rated in education circles. The Finnish delegates are welcome in conferences and workshops. Such is the hype and hula around the new ‘education system from Finland.’
Let’s take a real and hard look at the system that the world is raving about and navigate the system to understand our lessons from it.
THE BEGINNING
A decade ago, most of us would have struggled to identify the Finnish flag or name the Finnish capital. This Scandinavian country did not have it easy to begin with.
In the 1970s, Finland’s schools were sputtering after 108 years under Russian rule. Not only were their schools struggling, their economy was too. Unemployment was near 20%. Then the Finnish parliament made an historic decision to revamp their schools. They believed that education was the best way out of their country’s predicament.
Pre-Islamic Jahiliyah or the days of Ignorance is something we as Muslims can take heed from. When there was no Islam, the very same people we adore and look up to, were a bunch of wayfarers that no one was interested in. Iqra, the messenger-ship of Rasulallah changed it all, one night.
Education is the key to our rise in the global sphere. Among the tons of ills and evil practices that were prevalent in the pre-Islamic society of the Arab world, Allah, our Lord, could have sent any message. From girl infanticide, to lewd language, to tribal warfare. Yet Allah, the Al Aaleem, chose ‘knowledge’ over all. A lesson that needs to be rekindled in our schools. A lot of good work has not been capitalized on since the work was on good community welfare, but lacked Islam as its core central theme.
BE THE FIRST
By 2006, Finland was first out of 57 countries in science. In the 2009 PISA scores, released last year, the nation came in second in science, third in reading and sixth in maths among nearly half a million students worldwide.
In the Muslim heydays, it was the initiation of the Caliphs and governors to oversee educational growth. Sultan Salahuddin started 5 colleges in Egypt and later 26 more colleges were inaugurated by the Mamluk Sultans.
In Cairo, 634 H, Tahir, daughter of Mamluk sultan built her own college. Women were in fact on the education leader-board with Kahton, daughter of Malik Ashraf initiating a college in Damascus, Iraq, and Zamarrud, wife of Nasruddin of Allepo, starting another in Southern Egypt.
Muslims were all over the place with education and educational policies. There were 1500 madrassas in Damascus. All over, the Muslim world had a network of colleges except in Spain and Sicily (Italy). Sadly, today, there are states in America which have more colleges than all Muslim countries put together.
HOME IS FOR REST
Students in Finland also do less homework than kids in almost any other nation. The average is less than an hour per day!
They learn what they need to know in the classroom so they can have plenty of time for friends, family and other interests after school.
ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES ABDULLAH A DULL BOY!
The average Finnish student has 75 minutes a day of recess compared to the mere 27 most US kids get. Students in Finland are encouraged to play outside, even when it’s freezing out.
Abdullah IbnMasud said, “Knowledge is not the abundance of narration. It is an illumination that Allah casts in minds.”
IT ‘PAYS’ TO BE A TEACHER
Primary school teaching is the number one career choice for young Finnish people. The country’s teachers and the esteem in which they are held may very well be the most important ingredient for the success of the Finland schools. The fact is, the gap between doctor / lawyer / teacher salaries in Finland is on par. Way to go, Finland!
Sultan Salahuddin Al-Ayubi, the great crusader and conqueror of Palestine, was one of the first Muslim governors who legislated the payment of an Ustad’s salaries. Al Nizamia in Egypt was the first madrassa where the professor was paid. The Professors were paid 40 dinars in the Madaris started by Sultan Salahuddin in Egypt
So what motivates them to clamber for the job? It’s all about the R.E.S.P.E.C.T.
Overall, teachers in Finland are highly valued and given a ton of autonomy to create their own curriculums filled with plenty of art, music and science. They are given guidelines on what to teach, but aren’t told how to teach.
Look at the R.E.S.P.E.C.T. that Islam gave to its scholars and teachers. In an authentic hadith, “A man of knowledge has those in the heavens and the earth, even the fish in the sea, ask for his forgiveness.”[Tabarani]
IN CONCLUSION
Countries should make their education systems with their local empowerment rather than transferring teachers from countries which show high success in PISA tests. Lessons however can always be shared. Collaboration is the key. Save your identity, save your education.
Just having better teachers in schools will not automatically improve students’ learning outcomes. Remember in education, ONE SIZE DOES NOT FILL ALL! What works in Antarctica will not work in Africa or Arabia!
(The writer, Dawood Vaid heads Burooj Realization, a non profit Education Dawah. He was invited to the prestigious WISE Education conference at Qatar, where he attended the lecture by the Finnish educationist, Dr.Pasi Sahlberg. He can be reached at [email protected])

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