What do we need in literacy education?

UniversalGiving recognizes the importance of educating children worldwide. This post is by UG team member, Sarah Kenkel, who is an educator herself.

The world had its arms race, space race, and now we’re in the education race. As an English educator for nine years in the USA, South Korea, and Turkey, I have seen a wide variety of tactics and methods used to increase literacy amongst students and they all share a focus on results.

In education as in philanthropy, the people you serve must come first and you must cater your service to best suit their needs. Data collection to show your accomplishments and progress must not overtake the basic principle that the people come first. However, in this education race, as a country, we have reversed that basic structure. Test scores and reading levels are now placed as priority and the student-centered focus suffers because of it. Many students don’t read a chapter book with a teacher’s guidance as part of their curriculum until high school, because smaller, leveled readers or sections of books hit the vocabulary, grammar, and reading comprehension strategies in less time and fewer pages. Two weeks ago I taught kindergarteners the geometric terms ‘rhombus’ and ‘trapezoid’ because they are their key vocabulary terms for that week. Trapezoid…in kindergarten – and our English language learners are supposed to catch up to that. The USA has gone from a curriculum focused on quality to one of quantity.

National educational standards and the adoption of statewide curriculums by more and more districts forces them to compete in this education race. Teachers are doing a phenomenal job with the standards they have been given. It is not that the standards are too high; it is that the education offered is not meeting the needs of the local student population it serves. Not that long ago in the USA, the educated teachers and administrators of districts created their own curriculums that were specifically catered to the needs of their community. Urban districts generally do not need the Agricultural Education classes, yet the rural ones do. District choice in curriculum still exists to an extent; however, the allocation of funds towards areas that meet national standards has created budget cuts and therefore taken away much local decision-making and spending power.

So, who is doing it right? Finland. Finland is doing the exact opposite of the Western world in education and they are succeeding in vastly greater strides.

To learn more about the Finnish education system, check out this link or watch a YouTube video: Finnish National Agency for Education

So, we just copy the Finnish system, right? Per the USA’s work week, high cost and sometimes low availability in childcare, it would be difficult to implement all areas of their plan. However, we can copy, or return to the USA’s original model which was created from the bottom-up and student centered – just as we do in grassroots-initiated philanthropy.


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