What’s So Great About Schools in Finland?

| January 13, 2012 | 50 Comments
  • Email Post

Flickr: Leo-seta

The world looks to schools like this in Vantaankosken, Finland, as the model of success.

Finland has been hailed for exemplifying the ideal model of a thriving, innovative education system that prioritizes the most important stakeholders: students.

International and American media are fascinated by the Scandinavian country’s approach to designing the education system. The fact that Finland manages to score among the top three countries on the PISA survey is a tribute to its success, and worth following closely, observers say.

So what makes the Finland story so compelling?

  • THERE ARE NO PRIVATE SCHOOLS. Technically, there are a few independent schools, but they’re financed by the state and don’t charge tuition, according to a wildly popular article in the Atlantic about the school system. “The primary aim of education is to serve as an equalizing instrument for society,” said Dr. Pasi Sahlberg, Director General of the Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation in Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture who was visiting New York. “Here in America, parents can choose to take their kids to private schools. It’s the same idea of a marketplace that applies to, say, shops. Schools are a shop and parents can buy what ever they want. In Finland parents can also choose. But the options are all the same.” The Atlantic article also notes that all Finnish students receive free meals at school, and have “easy access to health care, psychological counseling, and individualized student guidance.”
  • ALL ADMINISTRATORS HAVE WORKED AS TEACHERS. “We have very carefully kept the business of education in the hands of educators. It’s practically impossible to become a superintendent without also being a former teacher,” Sahlberg told the Hechinger Report. “If you have people [in leadership positions] with no background in teaching, they’ll never have the type of communication they need.”
  • THEY DON’T FOCUS ON TESTS. “Finns don’t believe you can reliably measure the essence of learning,” Sahlberg said to the Hechinger Report. “You know, one big difference in thinking about education and the whole discourse is that in the U.S. it’s based on a belief in competition. In my country, we are in education because we believe in cooperation and sharing. Cooperation is a core starting point for growth.” To that end, testing doesn’t really begin until students are “well into their teens,” according to the Times.
  • TEACHING IS A REVERED PROFESSION. “The teaching profession is one of the most famous careers in Finland, so young people want to become teachers,” said Henna Virkkunen, Finland’s Minister of Education to the Hechinger Report. “In Finland, we think that teachers are key for the future and it’s a very important profession—and that’s why all of the young, talented people want to become teachers.” It’s compulsory for teachers to have a master’s degree, a process that typically takes five years, and requires intensive supervised teacher-training.
  • THEY TRUST TEACHERS.Teachers in Finland can choose their own teaching methods and materials. They are experts of their own work, and they test their own pupils,” Virkkunen said. “I think this is also one of the reasons why teaching is such an attractive profession in Finland because teachers are working like academic experts with their own pupils in schools.”
  • THEY INTEGRATE FOREIGN STUDENTS. Though Finland is primarily a homogenous country, there are pockets where immigrant populations are growing, specifically near Helsinki, where 30 percent are immigrants. “Normally, if children come from a very different schooling system or society, they have one year in a smaller setting where they study Finnish and maybe some other subjects,” Virkkunen said. “We try to raise their level before they come to regular classrooms.” Finnish schools also try to teach immigrant students’ native language as much as possible. “It’s very challenging,” she said. “I think in Helsinki, they are teaching 44 different mother tongues. The government pays for two-hour lessons each week for these pupils. We think it is very important to know your own tongue—that you can write and read and think in it. Then it’s easier also to learn other languages like Finnish or English, or other subjects.”

Clearly, the Finland system can’t simply be picked up and dropped into the U.S. — in fact, Sahlberg himself advised against it: “Don’t try to apply anything,” he said in the Times article. “It won’t work because education is a very complex system.”

There are too many divergent factors for that to happen. Finland’s population is about 5.3 million, while there are more than 300 million residents in the U.S. But even more importantly, the culture around competition is vastly different. There’s a distinct distaste for unabashed competition.

“You know, one big difference in thinking about education and the whole discourse is that in the U.S. it’s based on a belief in competition,” Sahlberg said. “In my country, we are in education because we believe in cooperation and sharing. Cooperation is a core starting point for growth.”

 

Related

Explore: , ,

  • Email Post
  • Dulaldeepak50

    What a wonderful school!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Evelyn Mar

    The article, “What’s so Great About Schools in Finland ,” is interesting .  Finland’s approach to the Educational System sounds like a Socialist approach.  I believe in competition because it challenges one to think critically.  In my culture, I was brought up to be competitive.  In America, often teaching is not a revered profession. 

    • alm

      Why is cooperation socialist?  It’s sad you think that working together is something that a capitalist country can’t value.

      • Theodia Kyngdom

        This is true!  We simply have too much corruption (and we’ve had more time than Finland in which to accrue it). 

    • craiginnl

      See the post by CZ above.

    • Sean Carroll

      Sorry mate, but to some in the world, the US way of doing things is seen as anti-people and just plain dumb. Sadly, your increasingly unsuccessful education practices are being introduced into relatively very successful education systems such as in Australia and New Zealand. Competition has its place but I think it can only have a negative impact on young minds. It belongs on the sports field. There is plenty of time in adulthood for ‘competition’ or ‘dog eat dog’ social darwinism .

  • Gerald Ardito

    I find this article really, really interesting. I wonder about the scalability of this model to a country as large and diverse as the US.

  • Marion

    I find it very interesting how the American media and various US educational stakeholders take such a keen interest in Finland’s education system when they need not look further than their neighbour to the north, Canada, for educational systems that rank in the top three to ten in the world depending on the test being considered. The US has a lot more in common with Canada than Finland. I wonder why there is so little interest?

    • Leftseat1

      About ten years ago, by happenstance, I shared a summer dinner with the top four ranking administrators and principals in the Canadian System at a crowded roadside restaurant near Wawa, Ontario. After introductions, the converssation turned to education. I asked what the top administrator concern was regarding Canadian schools. The unifed response was, “an active oppposition to learning among students, something that has escalated in recent years, something we have no handle on, but something which could be coming to American schools very soon”. What a prophetic statement ! A few years later, precisely this happened. The US government’s response was NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND. After that experiment did not work, a new diabolical strategy known as COMMON CORE was introduced. This one is so obviously detrimental in scope that it is facing massive active and passive resistance by teachers parents and students. Administrators however are in lock-step, trusting their high paychecks and careers, that the government thinks it knows what it’s doing. Very sad !

  • worldwise

    What makes their school system work? Common sense, that’s what! As a former teacher and now a parent of a toddler, I am terrified to release my little one into the hands of America’s school system. I am surrounded by mothers who begin vetting high schools as soon as their child has left the womb. It shouldn’t be that complicated!! This is America for goodness sake! We should feel secure sending our children into ANY school, considering the vast resources we have in this country. The problem (among others) is that these resources are not distributed appropriately. Poor neighborhoods = poor schools. This is not only unfair to the children, but also our country and her future. So what if it’s “socialist”?! Apparently, as we’ve seen 100,000 times overseas, socialism works quite well in more situations and countries than not (including in Canada). 

    It’s too bad we as a country can’t manage to swallow our poisonous pride and accept that people in other places do some things BETTER than we, and maybe we should take some pointers. President Obama seems to have tried to get this point across with as much creativity and poise as any one man can muster – but wait, that makes him “un-American”. Shame on us. 

    • http://openid.claimid.com/ajxn Anders

      Please don’t chage your school system.  It give us in Scandinavia a head start in competing and excell over you.  Look at sports like ice hockey, skiing, swiming, tennis,  football (soccer) etc.  Small countries like Sweden (10 milion), Finland (5 milion), Denmark (5 milion) and Norway (5 milion) can win over US, Canada, Russia and China.  That is about 20 milion people can win over 300 milion +  34 milion + 140 milion + 1340 milion people.

      Same thing with schooling as with sports, we try to make all children try out at least 1 or 2 sports, without foocus on competing and results until they are at least 15 years. They know about result anyway, and we can’t loose any talents, like you.

      You could also have a “good” example that the school system can start perform bad after been a high performer in Scandinavia. 
      Look at Swedish shools that has start doing the opposit what the Finns are doing.  We have lots of private schools, which have gives segregation and poor areas where children get bad results  We now have school administrators that has no background in teaching.  We start testing students in early years, and the tests are becomming more and more important.  There are problems getting trained teachers, because the state of schools are turning bad. Thus not enough want to become teachers and more and more teachers are leaving the trade. The curriculum have been changed about each 5:th year, because the politics doesn’t trust the teachers.  Integrating of foreign students still works ok though.  But I guess that is just a matter of time before teaching students their mother tongue language is also removed, “because we cant afford it”.
      But, it’s not as bad as in US yet, but our current government would like us to be more like US.  So it looks like we getting there.

      (By the way, Finland have two official languages, Finnish and Swedish)

    • http://norsescience.blogspot.com/ Ante

      I am not sure Canada is a socialist stat… Oyherwise I agree.

  • CZ

    Competition is not a method to challenge
    one to think critically. Finland’s educational system is not a Socialist
    approach. In many ways this nation is more “laissez faire” than the
    United States. Finland has greater business freedom, monetary freedom, and
    freedom from corruption than the United States. This small, affluent country
    has found that it must strengthen their education system as a matter of
    economic survival to compete in global markets and with low-cost economies. Their
    strategy is to invest heavily in education, research, and training to
    maintain Finland’s high-wage, high-skill economy and assure its citizens a very
    high standard of living. Through an educational system that emphasizes
    inclusion, Finland now has one of the highest standards of literacy in the
    world. Finland quickly transformed itself from an agricultural country to a modern
    and very competitive high-tech, knowledge-based economy. However, some
    people in the U.S. find it “fashionable” to describe anything that is
    contrary to their perceptions as “Socialist”. They must have been
    absent from school when that subject was discussed. By slapping inappropriate
    labels on good ideas, is there little wonder why this nation is not moving
    forward to improve educational system that provides the foundation for opportunities
    is the future?

  • Ray Montoya

    What the article does not mention is how difficult it is to become a teacher in Finland. The training is sometimes compared to medical school and only the top applicants make it. Could this be scaled up to serve a country as large and diverse as the US? Perhaps, but one would need to pay teachers salaries comparable to other professions-doctors, lawyers, etc. to attract the best people. Once that was accomplished, teaching would become a revered profession, especially in a country that reveres salaries. Is the US willing to do that? Not likely as investing in children will not produce an immediate/quick return on the initial investment-in short, capitalism/competition breeds short shortsightedness-there is no place for it in real learning. 

    • Theodia Kyngdom

      It isn’t capitalism, but the interest-based currency.  Demurring currencies thoughout history have been quite effective at spurring long-term investments. 
      Also, the U.S. isn’t that capitalist anymore. 

  • homebuilding

    I believe that all teachers have masters degrees in their content area.  While this fact may be buried in the content, this fact merits it’s own headline.

  • Robin Reads

    I am in my 34th year of teaching, I will retire at the end of this school year. There are many faults and and many good things in education. Requiring administration to be teachers first is a good idea. I have always thought that a teacher should spend 7 years in the classroom before taking on any educational job outside the classroom, and 7 years is a turning point for many educators. The idea of putting non english speakers in a special setting so they can catch up is good, but our numbers may not make it possible. I really believe a few changes would make a big difference here in the US. Do not assume all kids learn the same way and offer an alternative for those who need a less restrictive setting. I have some 7th grade boys who are very unsuccessful, but I am sure that in a school where they could learn by doing, perhaps in a wood, metal or auto shop setting, they would do very well, but those classes are not on the “TEST” and so have been dropped from most schools. Poor communities often have great teachers, what we need are more involved parents, access to after school tutoring, the ability to provide 3 good meals a day to hungry students and if we must participate in NCLB, more realistic goals. Right now, in our poverty area school with a majority percentage of non english and limited english speaking students we are required to meet the same standards as full english speaking schools in affluent areas where tutors are not a luxury and hunger is not an issue. Setting up learning standards is a good idea, but the standards should be developed with teacher input, real working teachers from a wide variety of schools. Think back to your own education, many of the givens are no longer allowed because they are not on the test. In kindergarden, sharing and taking turns takes a back seat to math, in elementary school, all those wonderful, American ballads that we all used to sing have been eliminated to fit in more academic information. I am afraid that some day the only person singing the National Anthem at a ball game will be the  star on the field and lately even they seem to have trouble with the words. I have taught health in my school for 27 years, I am teaching the children and grandchildren of former students, when I retire the health class will be discontinued, there are no health questions on the test. We cannot “copy” another countries system but we should certainly look at their best practices and we must also look at our worst. A free education is such a wonderful thing to offer, we need to do our best to make it worthwhile.

    • clw

      Thank you for taking the time to write this thoughtful reflection on this article.  As a teacher who retired after 33 years I am still in love with my chosen profession, but I mourn deeply what has become of it.  I remember teaching folk songs as a part of US History, cooking to bring fractions to life, teaching PE every day, developing units in problem solving based on playground interactions, being recognized by my administration for developing an integrated teaching unit combining math, physics, reading, and art which did not follow a scripted textbook complete with “scantron” bubble tests to “evaluate” the students’ mastery of the standards presented. But, those students really understood how an airplane could fly and wanted to learn more when the unit was finished!  As a country we seem to have lost our ability to look beyond the surface, to place value on the process rather than the measurement of artificially created “standards” and to remember that our children are not widgets to be turned out on an assembly line.  Children are our future, not commodities to be sorted, charted, measured and labeled as successful or failures by the time they reach the ripe old age of 7.  

  • Melindahassig

    I’d be curious to know more about Finland’s approach t educating individuals with disabilities.

  • Wercozy

    Mothers in America should be frightened.  Middle school children walk around school with Vodka in their water bottles.  If parents confront the teachers or the principal, they will deny it.  Kids vomit at their desks and fall asleep.  Parents are called to pick up their “sick” child.  When the parents pick up their “sick” child all they smell is the chemical smell of their Monster energy drink, totally unaware their child is an alcoholic.  The heartbreaking truth about teenage alcoholism is that only 15% recover to lead normal lives.

    • Theodia Kyngdom

      You must live in a terrible area.  In Collier County, Florida, the biggest threat is the unecessarily fluoridated water (though we do, of course have alcoholics, I’d say they make-up a minority of students (less than a fifth who regularly drink), and the reasonable (yet still underage) drinkers are probably a majority).

    • Theodia Kyngdom

      You must live in a terrible area.  In Collier County, Florida, the biggest threat is the unecessarily fluoridated water (though we do, of course have alcoholics, I’d say they make-up a minority of students (less than a fifth who regularly drink), and the reasonable (yet still underage) drinkers are probably a majority).

  • SDRich

    It seems to me 800 words are not enough to provide a thorough analysis of what constitutes a superior education system. There are numerous components not addressed in the article, not the least of which are parental attitudes toward education, length of the school day/year, the amount of homework assigned to students, and many more. This article barely scratches the surface of a complex process that deserves deeper examination and consideration.

  • Anonymous

    As a woman who has taught high school biology for 16 years, I can safely say that the people of our country do not trust teachers.  That is the reason for all of the state-mandated testing.  Testing may raise the bar for some of the worst teachers, but it creates a blockade to the vast majority of teachers who are creative, insightful and could truly seize on all of the “teachable moments” in the classroom if we did not have to say “that’s a great idea, but we don’t have time for that.”  How many horrible times I have had to tell my students they don’t have time for true, meaningful learning because I have an obligation to get them through a test.

    Think back to the most inspiring, meaningful, competent teachers you have had.  Were they about tests?  Mine weren’t.  As a teacher, I wasn’t about testing in the first few years, but as the level of testing has gone up, I have had to forgo the most important activities because of lack of time.

    Testing is not the only evidence that we are not trusted.  The evidence is in every facet of my job.  I have often found myself saying…this school district pays us all of this money, and then refuses to use our expertise…what a waste.  It is more than a waste.  It is a travesty.

  • Anonymous

    As a woman who has taught high school biology for 16 years, I can safely say that the people of our country do not trust teachers.  That is the reason for all of the state-mandated testing.  Testing may raise the bar for some of the worst teachers, but it creates a blockade to the vast majority of teachers who are creative, insightful and could truly seize on all of the “teachable moments” in the classroom if we did not have to say “that’s a great idea, but we don’t have time for that.”  How many horrible times I have had to tell my students they don’t have time for true, meaningful learning because I have an obligation to get them through a test.

    Think back to the most inspiring, meaningful, competent teachers you have had.  Were they about tests?  Mine weren’t.  As a teacher, I wasn’t about testing in the first few years, but as the level of testing has gone up, I have had to forgo the most important activities because of lack of time.

    Testing is not the only evidence that we are not trusted.  The evidence is in every facet of my job.  I have often found myself saying…this school district pays us all of this money, and then refuses to use our expertise…what a waste.  It is more than a waste.  It is a travesty.

  • Anonymous

    As a woman who has taught high school biology for 16 years, I can safely say that the people of our country do not trust teachers.  That is the reason for all of the state-mandated testing.  Testing may raise the bar for some of the worst teachers, but it creates a blockade to the vast majority of teachers who are creative, insightful and could truly seize on all of the “teachable moments” in the classroom if we did not have to say “that’s a great idea, but we don’t have time for that.”  How many horrible times I have had to tell my students they don’t have time for true, meaningful learning because I have an obligation to get them through a test.

    Think back to the most inspiring, meaningful, competent teachers you have had.  Were they about tests?  Mine weren’t.  As a teacher, I wasn’t about testing in the first few years, but as the level of testing has gone up, I have had to forgo the most important activities because of lack of time.

    Testing is not the only evidence that we are not trusted.  The evidence is in every facet of my job.  I have often found myself saying…this school district pays us all of this money, and then refuses to use our expertise…what a waste.  It is more than a waste.  It is a travesty.

  • Mike Sealander

    Here in Maine we have a new Commissioner of Education who has said each school can come up with their own path to excellence, and if that school can demonstrate they are serious, he’ll give them all the rope they need. I’m hoping this strategy can fit within our culture of self-rule and individual freedom.

    • Theodia Kyngdom

      I envy you; our new one has implemented a mandatory “Question of the Week” and a host of other belittling and unecessary abuses. 
      Oh, and the schoolboard complains of a lack of funds, despite the fact they spent over two thousand dollars apiece upon new *custom built* (and I know custom built; I put computers together for fun) computers — with at least 8gb RAM (with RAM-heatsinks!), blue-LED fans, a thermaltake case, and more — of which they placed several hundred in my school alone.  Also, all administrators got free iPads while all teachers got pay-cuts. 
      The bastards. 
      I hope college will be better. 

      • craiginnl

        Ah, the results of “technolust”!  Now they will be able to report to parents that they are preparing the students for the 21st Century because they have top quality computers in their schools. J  Perhaps if they spent even half the cost of the hardware on teacher PD so they might have a chance to use the hardware in a meaningful way.  
        However, if you view the documentary “The Finland Phenomenon”  (http://www.2mminutes.com/) you do not see much in the way of “high tech” in the classrooms. Certainly the students have computers that they use to access information but there are no high priced interactive white boards… the tools are put in the hands of the learners. As someone posted above, the focus in on learning not on teaching.

    • Theodia Kyngdom

      I envy you; our new one has implemented a mandatory “Question of the Week” and a host of other belittling and unecessary abuses. 
      Oh, and the schoolboard complains of a lack of funds, despite the fact they spent over two thousand dollars apiece upon new *custom built* (and I know custom built; I put computers together for fun) computers — with at least 8gb RAM (with RAM-heatsinks!), blue-LED fans, a thermaltake case, and more — of which they placed several hundred in my school alone.  Also, all administrators got free iPads while all teachers got pay-cuts. 
      The bastards. 
      I hope college will be better. 

  • Anonymous

    As a woman who has taught high school biology for 16 years, I can safely say that the people of our country do not trust teachers.  That is the reason for all of the state-mandated testing.  Testing may raise the bar for some of the worst teachers, but it creates a blockade to the vast majority of teachers who are creative, insightful and could truly seize on all of the “teachable moments” in the classroom if we did not have to say “that’s a great idea, but we don’t have time for that.”  How many horrible times I have had to tell my students they don’t have time for true, meaningful learning because I have an obligation to get them through a test.

    Think back to the most inspiring, meaningful, competent teachers you have had.  Were they about tests?  Mine weren’t.  As a teacher, I wasn’t about testing in the first few years, but as the level of testing has gone up, I have had to forgo the most important activities because of lack of time.

    Testing is not the only evidence that we are not trusted.  The evidence is in every facet of my job.  I have often found myself saying…this school district pays us all of this money, and then refuses to use our expertise…what a waste.  It is more than a waste.  It is a travesty.

  • Robin Reads

    I jump back in to ask a question; why is it all doctors are not condemned by a bad doctor and all pilots are not condemned by a bad pilot, etc. but teachers and schools are condemned as a group? A comment made by Wercozy seems to encompass all schools and teachers. In my school such problems as mentioned in the comment are taken VERY seriously and handled immediately! I will agree that the punishment is often not strong enough, but certainly that is not the fault of the teachers or even the administration, it goes straight to those in our district and county office, those who are not, and sometimes never were, in the classroom.

  • Desertdetails

    I wish they had commented on what happens with special needs kids.Maybe in Finland there are lower numbers of autism, dyslexia, cp, add, etc.

    • BmsTchr

       “The primary aim of education is to serve as an equalizing instrument for society,” said Dr. Pasi Sahlberg ….. For some reason I think those students are given the opportunities to help them grow and be what they can be. I teach SPED and the majority of my students are in regular classes (Algebra, Chemistry, etc.) where they learn nothing they need to live their life to the fullest. Our school does get more “points” toward our state rankings because they are enrolled in these classes. Think maybe our, and many other, schools priorities are screwed up?…..I do!

  • Juan Mari

    Less than 5% of poverty!

    • Theodia Kyngdom

      Eh, having a very large middle class is a more effective goal than the elimination of poverty. 

  • Juze78

    Teaching middle and high school art as a Fulbright Exchange Teacher was a great lesson in sisu, the Finnish quality of courage, determination, perseverance, heart, and stamina.  They take pride in their country and their schools.  Maybe building on the best things that we do in education will be productive.  Finnish people support their schools and the teachers.  They hire the smartest people their fields, and they trust that those people will deliver an excellent education without the cynicism and fear that is popular in American circles. Let’s talk about what’s so great about American schools.

  • http://www.facebook.com/NinasNotes Nina Smith

    The main difference is that in Finland the focus is on learning, not in teaching.  Learning is understood as a process, not a product or performance. It is also not about one-size-fits-all-teaching, but individualizing plays a major part there. Teachers and schools are given much freedom to implement the national curriculum – and using lesson plans or work sheets printed from the internet is not a common practice. Teachers are taught how to use reflect practice, and the assessment is based on observing students and their learning process. I should know – I was trained there as a teacher, and taught elementary before moving abroad.

  • Bmstchr

    If the bureaucrats would get out of the way Teachers could implement this next week!

     I have taught and worked in six different systems from the lowest to the highest ranked in our State. While there are teachers that might be considered “lacking” there are many more that are stifled because of the constant demands that the “test” be taught.  

    It also helps when a country looks at education as a tool to make things “equal”. In this country education is used to separate the “cans” and “can’ts”. We have long forgotten that we need all types of folks working and our education system caters, or tries to cater, to the “college bound” segment of the population. While I can agree that it would be fantastic if all students ended up with a college degree the bottom line is only a small population will actually graduate from, or even attend college. 

    A country that works together for the good of the entire country…… sounds like the U.S. thirty years ago!

    • Theodia Kyngdom

      Aye.  We need grammar school early-on, and in the teenage years we need vocational schools, academic schools, and maybe even artistic schools.  The preschool, elementary school, middle school (a.k.a. same curriculum all three years), and high school (which picks-up where elementary school left-off).  Instead of passing students by grades as if they were an assembly-line and dividing schools so arbitrarily, we should use the latest psychological rsearch to divide the schools.  Kohlberg and Piaget’s theories, for example, could be used to select the best start and end times for the different schools, and we can use the fact that languages are best learnt in the first ten years of life to figure-out when to start grammar school. 
      My highschool was one of the better (less bad) ones, but ever since we got that new principle and some of our best teachers left, we’ve been stuck mostly with instructors.  I want teachers, and I cannot wait until attending college next year. 

      Oh, and the extremely high amount of fluoride we put into our waters (I can smell the water at my school, and it burns my throat to drink) kills brain cells really effectively. That’s something else we should rememdy.

  • Bmstchr

    If the bureaucrats would get out of the way Teachers could implement this next week!

     I have taught and worked in six different systems from the lowest to the highest ranked in our State. While there are teachers that might be considered “lacking” there are many more that are stifled because of the constant demands that the “test” be taught.  

    It also helps when a country looks at education as a tool to make things “equal”. In this country education is used to separate the “cans” and “can’ts”. We have long forgotten that we need all types of folks working and our education system caters, or tries to cater, to the “college bound” segment of the population. While I can agree that it would be fantastic if all students ended up with a college degree the bottom line is only a small population will actually graduate from, or even attend college. 

    A country that works together for the good of the entire country…… sounds like the U.S. thirty years ago!

  • John Yen

    The difference is culture.The Finnish system would not work in the US because we Americans have a different set of values. We believe competition is more important that cooperation. We do  

    • privatechaos

      I don’t believe that. My grandmother was the first of our family born in the US from Finland. Not sure that’s why. I believe Finland’s attitudes should be emulated worldwide, and that would end war. This is what we should strive to become, peaceful and cooperative, and I decry the current state of affairs in my own country. It is absolutely unconscionable what the neoconservatives did in the ‘nineties to put forth the idea that we should have two theaters of war in order to protect our hegemony in this world.

      Also the fact that our education system seems to be operating out of Texas and not California is probably why it’s operating so badly. Textbooks (written there in Texas) have gotten worse and worse, now including ridiculous creationist poppycock to satisfy the Republicans’ moneybags (religious dupes). Half the science committee is Republican and not the best and brightest of them either.

  • Jimmy

    They also do NOT have private corporations stealing pubic funds in the form of Charter schools.  To learn all the financial and other scandals being reported all around the country, go to http://charterschoolscandals.blogspot.com/

    Finland also does NOT have schools like Rocketship — running computers and using “enthusiastic amateurs” as teachers.  Read: Teach for America.  The extra cheap college grads who leave the schools in 3 years. 

  • Watson Vicki M

    Yes, interesting outline of some aspects of the aspects that make Finland’s education unique and
    Highly successful on the objective measures – important data. What may well be even more interesting is gaining a sense of the practices / Pedagogies that make those outcomes a reality.
    I suspect that a closer look from the Finn’s classroom floors may reveal many instructional practices that others – no matter what the size of the population, may well be able to apply – even if it means rearranging current resources. I suspect that the focus on the individual and an acknowledgement and respect for the knowledge base known as Special Education and the use made of it in Finland’s schools, could offer us much. I’m sure that we also need to consider the social imperative that motivates Finnish educators – that individual growth is served by a social system that provides equity of both access and outcome. I’ll just have to wait until April when I’ll join the VPA’s Educators Exchange Program to Finland.
    Can’t wait!
    Vicki Watson

    • Anonymous

      Please report back on what you find when you get back, Vicki!

  • craiginnl

    Interesting article and comments. You might also be interested in reading another that does address some of the comments raised here and give another set of perceptions on this “phenomenon” at http://coopcatalyst.wordpress.com/2011/03/27/the-finland-phenomenon-a-film-about-schools/ 

  • Leftseat1

    This recently retired teacher spent October in Germany, Austria, and Luxembourg. While in Munich, my wife and I shared a B&B with two teacher couples “on holiday”, one couple from Switzerland, the other couple from Finland. At meals we shared a common table where education was a shared topic of discussion. I learned that most of the points made in the opening article are spot-on. As CZ posted, there is a “laissez-faire” approach to teaching, much less interference from administrators and the government, There is a culture of deep respect and support for teachers and their profession. Teacher pay far exceeds that in the USA. A point not covered in the article is that in Switzerland and Finland there is more emphasis and opportunities for vocalional education, particularly engineering, applied science, medicine, and technology. These countries have very low immigration rates and far less cultural barriers to bridge than in America. Their crime rates are lowest in the western world. The Swiss and Finns have far longer school calendars but with much more frequent breaks throughout the whole year. This allows time to decompress and travel, as my tablemates were doing in October. Another point to consider is that Switzerland and Finland appear to offer many “freebies” to students. However one must realize that the percent of total taxes on income and spending in both these countries is about 50%. The same is true in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and just a bit less in Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and Austria. 50% tax is very heavy burden to carry compared to America’s average of 25%. Lastly, teachers receive a very serviceable pension upon retirement, this deferred compensation is funded about 75% by the governments, allowing teachers freedomto invest their contribution of 25% wherever they wish. When we discussed the US government’s Common Core program they were appalled that Americans would allow the government to indoctrinate students by coercing teachers to lock-step teaching in one narrow fashion. It was a good week in Munich and I left envying the Swiss and Finnish education system, having conversed with teachers who had no complaints, very high morale, and a refreshing attitude not seen in the 30 years I taught History in Illinois.

  • joanno

    In looking at the characteristics of today’s Finland, it is important to look at how they got there. After WWII, the Finnish ed system was abysmal. The government instituted the kinds of reforms we see in this country today: accountability based in part on universal testing, weeding out poor performers, instituting national standards and demanding curriculum and insisting that teacher colleges take only the best and brightest and expose them to rigorous training. 70 years later, the fruits of those actions have born fruit and allowed the government to back off of many of the testing and accountability requirements. Not only is history ignored so often in our attempts to understand different educational systems, but ‘soft’ qualities like attitude are also not examined. In her telling look at Finland and other high performing countries, Amanda Ripley, in her book The Smartest Kids in the World and How they Got that Way, talks about a Finnish high schooler who was astounded at the lack of seriousness in her American counterparts. Finnish teachers had a professional, as opposed to union centered set of beliefs and behaviors. There is a lot we need to look at to understand our weaknesses.

  • Minneapolis Musician

    And no doubt the Finnish parents demand that their children take their schoolwork seriously.