Education, Social Trust, and Concern for the Environment
There is growing evidence that societies which are marked by a high level of concern for the quality of community can be distinguished from those which emphasise competition and individual success.
These differences seem to be both causes and effects of levels of Social Trust, which in turn result in considerable differences in the nature of education systems.
And, one step further on, concern for the health of communities has a knock-on effect on care for the environment.
One further factor that can have an impact is whether education is primarily seen as a process of assimilating facts and passing tests, or a broader based preparation for living in increasingly complex environments. The creation of "examination factories", and ever-intrusive testing of both learners and education institutions does little to enhance understanding of the complexities of the climate and its effects. And whilst Social Media may create immediacy in communication, over-use tends to replace creative thought and reflection.
Free Market Societies compared with Social Market Societies
I have picked some Scandinavian Societies and two Societies that have been gripped by neo-Liberal philosophies since the early 1980's to exemplify some crucial differences between them.
Social Market Societies can be exemplified by:
- Relatively high levels of mutual trust and respect
- Less inequality between different classes
- More respect for government and collaboration between different stakeholder
- Education systems causing less stress and competition
- High concern with the quality of the environment
Free Market Societies can be exemplified by:
- Competition within the workplace and in the community
- "Winners" and "Losers", with highly differentiated rewards going to Winners
- Relatively high levels of Inequality, large portions of society living in relative poverty
- Relatively lower levels of trust and respect for "others"
- Education systems marked by low trust, high external grading, causing high levels of stress and competition within the education systems
- Also competition to gain access to elite educational establishments and high levels of "entitlement" for those who had privileged educations
Stress in Competitive education systems. UK survey
The survey asked 730 education staff - working in early years, primary, secondary, sixth-form colleges and Further Education colleges. The survey revealed that, overall:
- more than half (56%) of pupils' mental health issues are leading to self-harm;
- 45% reported pupils having eating disorders;
- 48% said pupils were having panic attacks.
'Largely, mental health issues are on the rise with almost seven in 10 (68%) respondents saying they believe their school or college is having to deal with more pupil mental health issues than five years ago, and a third (34%) saying they are dealing with significantly more than one year ago,' the National Educational Union said of the findings.
When it came to identifying the underlying reasons, 82% of respondents said that tests and exams have the biggest impact on the mental health of pupils; 67% believed it is due to pressure from schools to do well; 50% said it was as a result of a narrowing of the curriculum; and 48% considered the pressure students put on themselves to do well academically a contributing factor.
Members of Parliament on the education select committee have warned that the high-stakes system of testing in English primary schools, in which Standard Assessment Test results are used to hold schools and teachers to account, was leading to a narrowing of the curriculum and "teaching to the test".
"The resulting high-stakes system has led to a narrowing of the curriculum with a focus on English and Mathematics at the expense of other subjects like science, humanities and the arts".
The Roles of Education Philosophies and Systems.
Comparative education systems UK, Sweden and Finland, Denmark and USA.
"Much is made of the stringent selection of candidate teachers in the Finnish education system, and the world-class training successful applicants receive - and rightly so. But while getting into the profession is highly competitive, the conditions teachers work under and the ethos of the schools, have a huge bearing on allowing teachers and their students to flourish. And this is all down to Trust. Teachers in Finland are given a great deal of responsibility and are allowed much flexibility in what and how they teach. Performance isn't observed and graded. Instead, annual development discussions with school leaders provide feedback on a teacher's own assessment of their strengths and weaknesses. Detailed plans are not expected either. The notion that a teacher should provide evidence to prove what they've done is ludicrous. Each teacher marks work when it benefits them or the student, but not for anyone else's sake. But behind the scenes, the aim of education is to support a healthy, wholesome Society. To quote Kari Kivinen a Finnish Head teacher;
"The goal is active, responsible citizens and voters; thinking critically, fact-checking, and evaluating all the information you receive, wherever it appears is crucial. We've made a core part of what we teach, across all subjects."
What society in Finland does - perhaps better than anywhere else - is look after, value and trust each other. If visitors, legislators and commentators could take one lesson away from the Finnish education system, it should be that one".
Denmark through the eyes of an American - different education Systems
"Now that I have lived in Denmark for almost 7 months, I have had time to reflect on the differences between our two countries. I've learned the Danish language, tasted all the traditional foods, toured castles and churches, experienced the weather, and even attended Danish school. The education system in Denmark is very different than our American school system.
Team building is important in Danish school.
Here her class had to build rafts and cross a cold fjord working together to accomplish the task
When Danish children start in kindergarten, they have a choice to enroll in an "outdoor kindergarten." This is a class that does not take place in a classroom, but is entirely outside. The children climb trees, play in the water, and learn about nature outside; even in the harsh Danish winter! Many foreigners that come to Denmark are shocked by the amount of freedom and trust that is placed in small children here.
Grades 1-9 are referred to as "folkskole" and are fairly similar to our American system. One noticeable difference is that the environment is more relaxed. There are fewer exams and testing requirements in Denmark.
While in the United States there is a strict structure that all students follow (elementary, middle and then high school), Denmark allows students to choose the path of schooling in the upper grades they want to take based on their strengths and interests. It is normal to take off for gap years to attend a boarding school, work, or simply travel. Because of this freedom, the normal graduating age of students is 19-21. While I am here in Denmark, I attend "gymnasium," which is one version of high school. It is 3 years long and all teens stay with the same class of 20 peers and the same group of teachers for each of these years.
The environment at this school is more like a United States university than a high school, as classes are always changing and frequently canceled when the teacher is not available. Some days I have up to 4 class periods while others I have only 1. In their first year of gymnasium, students choose which subjects they want to focus on, and then are grouped into classes based on that choice. For example, my class has students who focus on politics and music, so these particular classes we take are much harder than our math and language subjects. My political and music classes are similar to my honors and AP classes in the United States. This allows students to develop their strengths in a safe classroom environment and to grow in the areas they are passionate about.
Teachers are respectfully referred to by their first names. One more notable difference in Denmark is a relaxed feeling in the school. There are typically only 1-2 exams per course per semester along with approximately 1 hour total of homework per night.
Comparison with the US system
I can't even begin to count the amount of exams and tests I took while in the U.S. Additionally, my American nightly homework requirements were approximately 2-4 hours while in High School. Another difference is that at the end of the year students are given a month off to study for the big 3 exams of their choice. These exams decide if they move on to the next grade level. 2 of these 3 final exams are given orally.
I love being able to experience the Danish culture and more importantly to learn from both systems. By immersing myself in the schooling system in Denmark, I've been able to explore what needs improvement and what works in both of the school systems".
The "Marketisation" of Education
Britain and America can be contrasted with the Scandinavian countries in the fact that public education systems are rigorously benchmarked, together with League Tables in the UK - and University places are more expensive in both the Anglo Saxon countries. This places a huge emphasis on "Value for Money", which has a clear knock-on effect, causing potential higher education students to carefully consider their own interests and career "payback". This is less the case in the Scandinavian countries, with Denmark as a prime example:
Higher education in Denmark is free for all Bachelor's and Master's students coming from the EU/EEA area and Switzerland, as well as for students participating in an exchange programme.
Denmark is one of the most popular international study destinations in Europe thanks to its low study costs, high-quality English-taught Master's degrees and the innovative teaching methods. International students also choose Denmark due to its great standard of living and the large variety of study subjects available at Danish universities.
The UK and to some degree the American systems reflect the prevailing values in society, which are more based on measurement and testing than trust - and reflect the competitive nature of both Societies.
While most six-year-olds in the UK are subject to national tests, those in Finland and Denmark haven't even started formal schooling yet. When they do, the teacher's judgment alone is trusted in assessing students. No one, either within or outside the school, demands that it's done their way and to their timetable. And no one uses the data to construct league tables or put pressure on schools.
Contrast this with the UK, where schools have data managers, where some teachers are told which colour pens to use for marking, and where books are periodically checked to ensure that learning intentions are neatly stuck in place. A teacher in a special measures school, somewhere teachers need the most support, must write a plan for every lesson they teach, perhaps for months on end.
The roles of education as a social and economic "Sorting".
This process is evident in the United States, but much more in England.
The English education has nearly every dysfunctional feature, including:
- Expensive private education for the rich elite, the children of which start life with privileges that differentiate them from products of the public system in such professions as the law and finance
- For those less fortunate, an education system based on rigorous testing and grades, supposed to even up opportunities for those less fortunate. In fact, the testing causes huge stress amongst pupils and teachers alike - and even worse, sorts pupils into successes and failures. The "failures" are mostly consigned to poor employment opportunities and in many cases poverty and ignorance with poor housing, poor diets, poor health when compared with their privileged and successful fellow citizens
- This compares with the much more relaxed educational process in the Scandinavian countries
A question: Which people are more likely to value the environment, be aware of climate change, its causes and consequences: products of the Danish or English systems??
Critical Appraisal and the key role of Synthesis and Nuanced thinking.
It seems that Finnish students are taught to distinguish between fake and valid information, as well as learning a respect for the quality of the community and other people. The same applies to other Scandinavian countries.
Climate change is not a simple topic and is not susceptible to simple thinking.
First, it is important to understand the effects of climate change on the natural environment and on the multiple species of trees plants, insects and animals that inhabit it. As many of these species are interdependent and affect each other in complex ways, many different intellectual disciplines are required to generate full understanding. An additional layer of complexity is added because the natural environment is dynamic and in a state of constant change, so a static model is not enough to generate understanding of all the nuances involved.
Second, it is very important to understand the causes of climate change, and how the climate is affected by natural causes like volcanic activity, the behaviour of the sun and such phenomena as solar wind. Then, it is of critical importance to be able to differentiate between natural causes and the effects of human behaviour. Climate scientists and others are predicting approaching disaster in the form of heat, fire, drought, increasingly violent weather, and rising sea levels, but many people seem to be able to deny that this is important
The impact of different education systems on Society
The key differences seem to be the fact that Scandinavian systems are more relaxed, but in particular that they are based on Trust - and in this regard mirror the Societies that support them. This is probably a very significant factor as a sense of confidence in one's neighbours and concern for the health of society seems to override competition and an overriding drive to "Win", markedly prevalent in the United States.
Britain's system is besmirched by tests and oppression with Grades and School league tables. This is certainly not in any way a trust-based system.
Also, and very important, the fetish with passing exams and achieving high grades leads to a sort of exam factory mentality in UK public education - which tends to degrade broader subjects that encourage wider thought about deep causal factors behind such issues as Climate - and in particular the complex causes and effects of Global Warming.
In general, it appears that the nature of the education systems in the Scandinavian countries are both a result of the distinctive cultures of those countries; and also contribute to the development of high trust societies - and in turn seem to be formative influences in levels of concern for the natural environment and Climate Change.