“I was surprised by the use of textbooks in Finland,” says Lucy Crehan, author of Cleverlands: the secrets behind the success of the world’s education superpowers.
“It has such a reputation as a progressive country, but it is much more traditional than you might expect.”
Crehan, a qualified teacher, says that the use of textbooks in Finland does not mean the country’s teachers are less involved in the planning of their lessons.
“The teachers did not just say ‘turn to page 61 and off you go’. [The books] were used as part of an interactive lesson, but they did make use of them as opposed to creating their own worksheets – although sometimes they did that, too,” she says.
“Like any good teacher in England, good teachers in Finland and Singapore would not just base a whole lesson on the textbook, they would select certain activities. But I think their textbooks are better, so why would you not use them? From a workload perspective it’s a no-brainer.
“If a textbook can be used to get children to understand what you are teaching, then [it is less work than] making stuff up from scratch.”
Crehan also suggests that the use of textbooks in other countries may be more popular because they serve a different underlying purpose.
“There are not the same high-stakes exams in Finland, so the material in the textbook is written to help children to reach a deep understanding,” she says. “Whereas in England the focus is on ‘is this going to help kids get better marks in the exam’? The books have been written with a different purpose.”
Crehan adds: “In Japan, the surprising thing was the textbooks weren’t as pretty as those in Singapore. They were on cheap paper and in black and white, but they would be filled in by the students, so every child had them.”