By Alina Hunter-Grah, Chattanooga, Tenn.— As the elections have continued, there seem to be a few key topics circulating through the debates and social media. One of them is secondary education and its prices.

I think most people can agree that education is necessary. In order to be a functioning citizen, a basic education is pretty important. So, for a while, I was on the whole free college bandwagon. But then I saw something on Facebook that sparked a thought process that led me down a different path.

The post was supporting Bernie Sanders’ idea about free college tuition, socialism and said something along the lines of, “We need free education so people can understand what socialism really is.” It got me thinking, “Shouldn’t this have been something we all learned in middle school?” It really should have been. Why isn’t thirteen years of school enough? It’s because our primary school education is not what it needs to be.

Primary education should be about making well-rounded, thoughtful individuals who understand how politics and economics work. Students should know why art is important, who can tell you about basic biology, who know how to file taxes, and who know what they are doing with the rest of their lives. Students should be engaged.

Students should like learning. But right now, we’re teaching our students how to take tests. They’re not learning what’s important.

Finland is known to have one of the best education systems in the world. According to Smithsonian, the gap between Finland’s highest achieving students and the lowest achieving is the smallest in the world and their high school graduation rate is at 93 percent.

The Organization for Economic and Cooperation and Development (OECD) found through international testing that Finnish students, since 2001, have been scoring either at the top or near the top in science, mathematics and reading. Finland also treats its students very differently.

Teaching is the most competitive degree in Finland. Teachers are only picked from the top-ten percent of graduates and are put through a variety of interviews and personal screenings to ensure that only the best teachers are teaching.

Teachers are taken very seriously and share status with doctors. Teachers are given more control of their classrooms because of all of their qualifications allowing teachers to go more in depth with certain topics. Salaries are not dependent on test scores. The job is about teaching.

Students do not start school until they are seven years old, School only runs from 9 a.m. to about 2:30 p.m., and students have on average a 75 minute recess. Homework is much rarer in Finland than in the US.

This all gives students time to be children and enjoy life without it revolving around homework. Students enjoy school more because it’s about learning rather than work and tests. And because they have more time to focus on different subjects since the curricula are designed by the teacher, students get time to master each lesson before moving on.

If we can fix our education system to be more about the learning than the test taking like Finland, then we won’t need to send everyone to college to be a functioning member of society.

Primary education will have actually been enough to get someone a decent job and college education will remain a place for students who need it for their desired occupation or want to become a master in a particular field. We already have 13 years of free education, why aren’t we utilizing it?

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