It was recently announced that schools in Finland, a country that has often been recognised as a pioneer in the field of education, are implementing a major shift in their education system. Students from the age of 16 will no longer study individual subjects such as mathematics, English and history. Instead, they will be taught using a new phenomenon-based learning approach.
Phenomenon-based learning is an interdisciplinary approach to teaching, in which a topic is selected for study and is then studied from various angles. For example, studying the phenomenon of the pyramids would see students looking at the mathematics of their construction, the history of Egypt, and the geography of the Near East, all within the same lessons.
It’s a move that sees the focus shift away from a standardised curriculum of knowledge per subject, to a more holistic approach to learning. The argument against a subject-driven curriculum is that it compartmentalises a student’s learning, forcing them to think in terms of arbitrary subject distinctions.
In contrast, phenomenon-based learning brings together multiple areas of study. This has the added benefit of prompting students to ask questions that interest them, without needing to worry about subject barriers. In a more traditional schooling approach, a question about the life of Pythagoras is considered off-topic in a lesson about geometry. By breaking down these divisions, students are encouraged to learn broadly across subject areas.
Encouraging students to investigate the questions that interest them, regardless of which subject it applies to, is one of the best ways to drive student engagement. And with technology at their fingertips, students are able to research independently and seek out knowledge for themselves.
Could this approach to teaching and learning affect ACARA’s implementation of the curriculum in Australia? If not now, it might be something for education authorities to think about as the system gets re-examined in the future.