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Possible to adapt Finnish education model to S'pore

Singapore ought to take note of the lessons that Finland can teach us on building a more relevant and less stressful education system (Finn & fun: Preparing the next generation for a new world; May 22).

Detractors have often obstructed attempts at transplanting some of Finland's innovations to other countries. They assert that Finland's educational model is an anomaly that succeeds only within the unique socio-cultural framework of the Nordic states, which is highly collectivist and socially homogeneous.

Attempts to import the Finnish education model are doomed to fail, they imply, due to the contradictions between the socio-cultural assumptions of the policy and the actual policy context. This argument is exaggerated and intellectually lazy.

While the level of success yielded by an imported policy may vary due to socio-cultural differences, this is not to say learning from other countries is impossible. Suitable adaptation has enabled foreign ideas to take hold in very different socio-cultural contexts.

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For instance, Meiji Japan was able to build a modern society successfully even though its society and culture were radically distinct from that of Europe.

The Humboldtian model of the university, developed in Conservative and collectivist Germany, took hold strongly in liberal America to create the modern research university.

The culture gap is not as insurmountable as it seems.

Furthermore, the culture gap between Singapore and Finland is not as wide as most believe. It has been argued that Singapore, as an Asian society, is like Finland - a collective society that emphasises the common good over the individual. This is a key element to implementing the Finnish model. Socio-cultural homogeneity can be ameliorated by the strong role of the state in Singapore: Our education system has successfully inculcated a commitment towards a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society.

We ought not to dismiss Finland's achievements as unattainable, but instead, seek to adapt their best practices to our local context to improve our education system.

Ng Qi Siang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 28, 2017, with the headline 'Possible to adapt Finnish education model to S'pore'. Print Edition | Subscribe