“Traditional education promotes equality”
7 May 2019
In the Nordic countries, health is linked to educational attainment to a higher extent than to income. Studies have now shown that the progressive pedagogy which generally characterizes Nordic teaching is likely to actually increase social disparities in health. - Create an educational system that promote health equality, urges researcher Gabriel Heller-Sahlgren, in a new report he has written for the Nordic Welfare Centre.
The Education Policy for Health Equality: Lessons for the Nordic Region report analyses the link between health, education, knowledge and pedagogical methods.
– Health is often linked to educational attainment, to a greater extent than to income. Therefore, it is important to examine the extent to which education policy can contribute to, or be counterproductive to, health equality and health equity,” comments Heller-Sahlgren.
Progressive pedagogy creates inequalities in health
In the report, he raises a critical voice against the type of progressive, student-centered learning (also known as learner-centered education or learner-centered pedagogy) that the Nordic countries utilize to varying degrees and calls for a clear, more traditional role of the teacher. The progressive pedagogy places significant emphasis on communicative skills, the individual’s pleasure in learning, and the student themselves acquiring knowledge. Less emphasis is placed on traditional, measurable knowledge and teacher-lead teaching. According to Heller-Sahlgren, there is quite a lot that indicates that progressive pedagogy leads to greater inequalities in health.
– There is a strong link between individuals’ education and levels of knowledge and their own self-assessed health in adulthood. Progressive pedagogy leads to inferior academic performance generally, which is likely to generally affect the individual’s health in adulthood. At the same time, such methods also seem to lead to higher levels of enjoyment and well-being at school.
Adjust the educational system
Heller-Sahlgren stresses that the mental health of young people in the Nordic countries has not improved the same way as satisfaction and enjoyment has in school.
– According to the Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children survey, mental health among school-aged children has decreased during the new millennium (since 2000) and thus moved in the same direction as the declining school performance. At the same time, we see that students today like their time in school compared to at the beginning of the new millennium. One needs to be cautious in making causal conclusions from this, however it does support the research discussed in the report in general.
Since 2000, the Nordic countries have not succeeded particularly well in measurements of international knowledge, such as the Programme for International Student Assessment Survey (PISA), which measures 15-year-old school pupils’ scholastic performance in reading comprehension, mathematics and science. The exception is Finland, which however in recent years has also fallen sharply in various international measurements.
At the same time, the progressive, student-centered learning has had a strong foothold in Sweden since 1990. Denmark, Iceland and Norway have also been influenced in the same direction, while Finland has long maintained a more traditional method of teaching. However now even Finland has begun to move in the same direction.
– In order to maximize the probability that the school system contributes to health equality, changes are required. Such changes include modifications and adaptations of curricula and other policy/governing documents, teacher training and other key factors within the educational system in a more evidence-based direction. It is self-evident that one challenge is to change the methods that today have gained a strong foothold in the classrooms. However, one first step in the right direction would be for the Nordic countries to reform the education policy in such a manner that promotes health equality over the long term, asserts Heller-Sahlgren.
Reevaluate student-centered learning
It is the report’s recommendation that student–centered learning should be reassessed and phased out if the school is to contribute to greater equality in health and provide all children a good education. Follow the research that generally shows that traditional teaching favors knowledge gathering, emphasizes Heller-Sahlgren.
– Traditional methods and hierarchical school environments seem particularly important in order to improve school performance among socially disadvantaged students. The progressive pedagogy increases general well-being and satisfaction in the school environment, and can also be useful as a means of improving school performance among very high-performing students. However, it doesn’t benefit most other students.