Phenomenon Based Learning: Critical Thinking Makes Life Good and Happy – A Look on Finnish Education System

Let us get to know Arkki, an organization grasping the Finnish education system as a role model to increase the quality of Thai schools.
“Growing up with Phenomenon Based Learning (PhBL), children will develop critical thinking skills and become quality personnel of society. No matter what they do, they will first be able to think critically” – Asst. Prof. Dr. Pichawadee Kittipanya-ngarm, Department of Operations Management, Thammasat University.
What should be the first solution to educational problems?

The problem of classroom learning today is largely caused by students solely listening to teachers’ lectures. In terms of sustainable education development, the education system of Finland has, interestingly, initiated a change in the education model, in which students are centered. Students, to be specific, will be taught to take actions and build up their own body of knowledge. This, in turn, sets up a question on how the Thai education system will apply the Finnish education form to its own.  

Phenomenon Based Learning (PhBL)

Finland is a country which drastically develops itself in every aspect. The country’s core maxim since World War II has been the emphasis on people’s well being, contentment as well as happy education. The Finnish curriculum has 6 key principles as follow:

  1. Avoid competitions and comparisons. 
  2. Avoid judgments. 
  3. Avoid tests or examinations. 
  4. Consider every school is high-quality. (The best school is the one nearby.)  
  5. Learn through playing and prioritize taking actions.  
  6. Avoid assignments.  

These 6 principles are the source of Finland’s main education which is Phenomenon Based Learning (PhBL). PhBL revolves around active learning that connects experiences with reality and various subjects. Specific traits of PhBL are as follow:

  • Real-life circumstances encourage learning better than original subjects in the classroom.
  • Learn to build knowledge instead of merely receiving it.   
  • Teachers and students participate in asking and answering questions to motivate students to build knowledge in the classroom.  

PhBL concerns 2 fundamental courses of education which are problem-based learning and inquiry-based learning. Problem-based learning promotes learning of students’ surrounding problems that they face on a daily basis. Inquiry-based learning engages learners in seeking knowledge by themselves. By conducting projects or works that they can fully perform, children will therefore be able to discover results of their own studies creatively.

Thai vs Finnish learning contexts in comparison under the PhBL framework

“The keys of the Finnish education are people’s happiness and well being. It indicates that the education of Finland has less educational inequality to an extent. Although inequality cannot be completely eliminated, there are several contexts to help reduce it. For example, Finland’s determination on the tax base. Bachelor’s degree graduates are responsible for 30 percent of the Finnish tax base. Also, high-income people in Finland will be taxed more than half of their earnings. This is to control the rate of high-income earners, unlike Thailand where the rich are excessive.

“To illustrate, if people were extremely rich, they would not work. There is also no way for Finnish companies to become as immediately wealthy as Facebook. Once people are relatively happy, work life balance comes. Inequality is thus not great.”

Finland’s PhBL aims at improving quality of life that is basically up to the mark for the better. But for countries with obvious inequality, people have significantly different qualities of life. The question remains on how to apply this learning pattern for best results. 

Dr. Pichawadee explained that despite effective education and teachers, children cannot concentrate on learning if they are in a state of homelessness and starvation. Government therefore needs to provide the four indispensable necessities of life in the first place, along with 

improvement for a better curriculum which Thailand has failed to solve. Children will be eager to study when everything is in place.

There are 2 factors to help raise the Thai education standard by PhBL. First, teachers should allow students to pursue their interests under a decent frame. “Teachers in Thai schools will be more acceptable among children once they understand to put the center on the children.” Second, teachers, when accepted by students, can formulate students a form of knowledge they are supposed to learn. To this point, Dr. Pichawadee suggested that the problem is teachers do not understand children, thus do not listen to them. Children may not be immune to misinformation, even some adults still share fake news.

“The beginning has people realize about the problem. Teachers are used to centering themselves and children will be blamed if they do not comply. It is better for teachers to at least ask them whether they want to study or not”

The crucial problem today is the lack of teachers’ and parents’ understanding of children and the intention to willingly listen to them.

“It cannot be denied that the baby boomers are used to commanding others. Because they are successful using that means, they also think this can be applied to modern times and people from Gen X to Gen Y will always listen to them.”

“Growing up with Phenomenon Based Learning (PhBL), children will develop critical thinking skills and become quality personnel of society. No matter what they do, they will first be able to think critically.”   

Arkki on establishing the Finnish education model in Thailand

Thailand has derived PhBL from Finland’s School of Creative Education for PhBL teaching named Arkki. Arkki focuses on spreading knowledge and organizing PhBL training for education personnel in order that they will be able to adopt this form of education to their institutes, organizations or countries. Dr. Pichawadee had also joined the training which helped improve her understanding of the pivot of PhBL. Consequently, Dr. Pichawadee has become a co-founder and executive of Arkki Thailand from then on as she has a desire to apply and observe how the system would work with Thai education.

“Arkki is a design school for children that does not teach them to design, but to have 21st century skills through design.”

Dr. Pichawadee intends to bring in the Finnish education model to improve Thai education. What is noticeable about the Finnish education, to Dr. Pichawadee, is using design for educational development because design assembles all sciences. Dr. Pichawadee further added 5 skills to be specifically emphasized which are creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, communication and computational thinking.

“These skills are sciences which require both left and right sides of our brain, logic and creativity, to work collectively. But when we learn at school, we always separate subjects, thus putting a side of our brain in use. Despite the fact that we implement the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) learning and teaching formula, it is classified with logic. Hence, the artistic side is not generally used. The Finnish education claims that to use both sides of our brain, it should be changed to STEAM in which A stands for Arts.”  

How the curriculum solves educational inequality   

Similar to what Finland has done to its educational model, Dr. Pichawadee has adapted the Thai education system. Specifically, the original subjects in the curriculum remain unchanged whereas the methods are altered by which children learn about real situations from their perspectives. Children will accordingly notice a real complicated world and find solutions by themselves through 5 educational dimensions as follow:

  1. Holisticity – engulf every context in life
  2. Authenticity – pass information filtering and truth distinguishing 
  3. Contextuality – understand contexts  
  4. Problem-based Inquiry – create the ability to question 
  5. Open-ended Learning Process – generate self-education from the beginning to end

through 5 processes of Phenomenon Based Learning which are the following:

  1. Questioning – question from different points of view
  2. Research – receive information and connections to satisfy curiosities. Using search engines is effective today because if precisely filtered, the new information is abundant. 
  3. Investigation – assess probable answers to comprehend each phenomenon from experiments  
  4. Testing – teachers suggest students to learn about vital concepts and skills that can solve problems
  5. Explanation – learners explain solutions or products that answer the question

These procedures will help learners to understand connections; the reasons why things are related, and the explanations why things matter. Likewise, students will apprehend the significance of this curriculum that highlights critical thinking, experiences occurring in the classroom and the learner-centered concept. This education model is efficient for the future of the entire system, because, in addition to developing children’s decision-making skills, it improves the relationship between children and adults in a better way and encourages to enhance children’s learning potential rapidly. 

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