What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart?

An interesting piece in the February 29th Wall Street Journal examines the differences between the US educational system and that of Finland, which consistently places far above the USA on an international academic test (The Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA.) Finnish students earned some of the top scores by 15 year-old students who were tested in 57 countries, while American students finished among the world’s C students. In this test, the average score was 500 out of a possible 1000 points. Finland’s scores were Science, 563, Math 548, and Reading 547. Canada’s scores were 534, 527, and 527, and the USA’s were 489, 474, and 495, respectively. When officials from the US Dept. of Education visited Finland to see what they could learn about their educational system, they discovered that Finnish teachers’ salaries are comparable to those of American teachers, but they have considerably more freedom and discretion in choosing books and customizing lessons for their students than their American counterparts. Apparently in Finland, there is little standardized testing, no gifted classes, and kids don’t even start school til the age of seven. Oh, and college tuition is zero.

The article goes on to say:

“One explanation for the Finns’ success is their love of reading. Parents of newborns receive a government-paid gift pack that includes a picture book. Some libraries are attached to shopping malls, and a book bus travels to more remote neighborhoods like a Good Humor truck.”

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120425355065601997.html?mod=hps_us_mostpop_viewed

So, if we want a nation of readers, it appears that all that we need to do is test the kids less and let them read more. Comments?

A Video Demonstration of Amazon’s Kindle

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Connect2Books is now on Facebook!

For you Facebook users, there’s now a Connect2books “cause” there, which you can invite your friends to join. Just click here:

http://apps.facebook.com/causes/sharings/show/71580

Interested in joining the pilot program?

Are you interested in getting Kindles for your Kids?

We are currently accepting applications from organizations and schools that work with at-risk and low income youths, in grade levels 6 to 12. Some obvious ones jump quickly to mind: Inner city school districts with a high percentage of Title I students, organizations that target at-risk and underserved populations, such as Habitat for Humanity, Teach for America, KIPP Academy, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and the Harlem Children’s Zone Project, to name just a few. Organizations such as these have the infrastructure and programs in place that would be needed to administer the distribution and monitoring of the Kindle units. Suggestions for willing and committed organizations are welcome.

Welcome to Connect2books.org! A blog about e-books for everyone

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free” – Frederick Douglass  “To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.”  – Victor Hugo“A man is known by the books he reads.”  – Ralph Waldo Emerson“There is more treasure in books than all the pirates’ loot on Treasure Island.”  – Walt Disney Continue reading

Welcome to KindlesforKids!

Amazon’s Kindle e-book readerThis blog was established to put forward the concept that Amazon’s new Kindle e-book reader  can play an important part in combatting declining literacy levels among schoolchildren in the US. (And eventually in other countries if the wireless capability is expanded globally. Until that happens, the optional storage card can hold hundreds more than the 200 books that the Kindle’s built in memory can store. This  feature thus brings many of the Kindle’s benefits to regions that currently lack wireless access to it.) Think of it: school kids with access to a virtually unlimited array of textbooks, classic literature, always-on Wikipedia and an array of other educational resources, while simultaneously reducing the weight of their overburdened backpacks! Yes, the current price point is a major deterrent but as the law of declining technology prices kicks in, volume discounts, etc, soon it will be within the reach of many students. For those in need, a non-profit is being established that subsidizes the cost of the unit, thus extend the reach to anyone, regardless of income bracket. Combined with initiatives such as the Gutenberg Project, which offers a catalog of tens of thousands of free e-books, the Kindle could be a more effective solution to achieving the goal of universal literacy than the One Laptop Per Child mission. 
I see the two technologies serving largely different needs and markets.  The mission of the OLPC foundation, as stated on their website, is to empower the children of developing countries to learn by providing one connected laptop to every school-age child (up to the 5th grade). This goal is being achieved by negotiations between the foundation and various third world governments, typically for millions of units. The scale is far more ambitous than what I had in mind for the Kindle, which due to its current wireless capability, will only work in the US. I’m not sure if OLPC is even intended for any US children, but even if it is, I think the Kindle is probably the more effective tool to deal with the literacy gap. It has (or could have, with appropriate licensing deals) everything that underserved middle and high school children would need to raise their literacy levels – all the textbooks, dictionary, thesaurus, and other reference materials, not to mention an always on connection to Wikipedia. (and it plays audiobooks and MP3s). I still believe it would be less daunting to roll out the Kindle to this population than OLPC. I also think the aim of KindlesforKids should be the middle and high-school grades, since this is the stage that reading activity has declined over the last decade. (To see some actual data, refer to the NEA’s recent report: To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence.)
So to move this initiative forward, it is necessary to test the hypothesis that putting Kindles in the hands of  school children who have limited or no access to the materials they need to further their education will somehow improve their literacy. In the US, which like it or not, is obsessed with two terms, tests and standards, (due to  the No Child Left Behind Act), this requires demonstrating a measurable increment in reading scores among school children after a year or two of any introduction of new technology or learning method. Therefore the first step in this process is identifying a population of school children that meets the general standard of “underserved” and that has lower than average literacy scores. This should not be too difficult. The next step is to find an adventurous teacher and supportive adminstration that is willing to conduct this pilot program.
The non-profit organization that I have established, Connect2Books.org, seeks to partner with other organizations and foundations to underwrite the cost of the hardware and a nominal selection of e-books. Any takers? I will use this blog to document my progress. Stay tuned…