The love affair with the Finnish education system

17 Apr

In U.S. education failure: Running out of excuses, moi said:

Education tends to be populated by idealists and dreamers who are true believers and who think of what is possible. Otherwise, why would one look at children in second grade and think one of those children could win the Nobel Prize or be president? Maybe, that is why education as a discipline is so prone to fads and the constant quest for the “Holy Grail” or the next, next magic bullet. There is no one answer, there is what works for a particular population of kids.

https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2011/12/13/u-s-education-failure-running-out-of-excuses/

Many educators around the world have a love affair with the Finnish education system. The question is what if anything which is successful about the Finnish system can be transported to other cultures?

The Pearson Foundation lists some key facts about Finland in their video series, Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education

Key facts

Finland’s society is relatively homogeneous. Out of a population of 5.3 million, only 3.8% are foreign-born, against an OECD average of 12.9%. Finland spends 5.9% of its gross domestic product on education, slightly above the OECD average of 5.2%.

  • Finland recruits its teachers from the top 10% of graduates. From primary through upper secondary level, all teachers are required to have a Master’s degree.
  • Finnish teachers spend 592 hours per year teaching in class, less than the OECD average of 703 hours. This allows more time for supporting students with learning difficulties.
  • At least two out of five Finnish school students benefit from some type of special intervention during their secondary schooling.

Outcomes

Finland was the top performer in the PISA 2000 tests and it has consistently featured among the top performers since then. In 2009, the number of Finnish students reaching the top level of performance in science was three times the OECD average.

  • Upper secondary students are expected to design their own individual learning programs within a modular structure.
  • In 2008, Finland’s upper secondary graduation rate was 93%, against an OECD average of 80%.
  • In 2008, more than 40% of Finns between 20 and 29 were enrolled at university, well above the OECD average of 25%.

http://www.pearsonfoundation.org/oecd/finland.html

Pasi Sahlberg urges a measured analysis in his Washington Post article.

Pasi Sahlberg, author of “ Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn About Educational Change in Finland? ” writes in the Washington Post article, What the U.S. can’t learn from Finland about ed reform:

What I have to say, however, is not always what they want to hear. While it is true that we can certainly learn from foreign systems and use them as backdrops for better understanding of our own, we cannot simply replicate them. What, then, can’t the United States learn from Finland?

First of all, although Finland can show the United States what equal opportunity looks like, Americans cannot achieve equity without first implementing fundamental changes in their school system. The following three issues require particular attention.

Funding of schools: Finnish schools are funded based on a formula guaranteeing equal allocation of resources to each school regardless of location or wealth of its community.

Well-being of children: All children in Finland have, by law, access to childcare, comprehensive health care, and pre-school in their own communities. Every school must have a welfare team to advance child happiness in school.

Education as a human right: All education from preschool to university is free of charge for anybody living in Finland. This makes higher education affordable and accessible for all.

As long as these conditions don’t exist, the Finnish equality-based model bears little relevance in the United States.

Second, school autonomy and teacher professionalism are often mentioned as the dominant factors explaining strong educational performance in Finland. The school is the main author of curricula. And the teacher is the sole authority monitoring the progress of students.

In Finland, there is a strong sense of trust in schools and teachers to carry out these responsibilities. There is no external inspection of schools or standardized testing of all pupils in Finland. For our national analysis of educational performance, we rely on testing only a small sample of students. The United States really cannot leave curriculum design and student assessment in the hands of schools and teachers unless there is similar public confidence in schools and teachers. To get there, a more coherent national system of teacher education is one major step.

Finland is home to such a coherent national system of teacher education. And unlike in the United States, teaching is one of the top career choices among young Finns. Teachers in Finland are highly regarded professionals — akin to medical doctors and lawyers. There are eight universities educating teachers in Finland, and all their programs have the same high academic standards. Furthermore, a research-based master’s degree is the minimum requirement to teach in Finland.

Teaching in Finland is, in fact, such a desired profession that the University of Helsinki, where I teach part-time, received 2,300 applicants this spring for 120 spots in its primary school teacher education program. In this teacher education program and the seven others, teachers are prepared to design their own curricula, assess their own pupils’ progress, and continuously improve their own teaching and their school. Until the United States has improved its teacher education, its teachers cannot enjoy similar prestige, public confidence and autonomy.

Third, many education visitors to Finland expect to find schools filled with Finnish pedagogical innovation and state-of-the-art technology. Instead, they see teachers teaching and pupils learning as they would in any typical good school in the United States. Some observers call this “pedagogical conservatism” or “informal and relaxed” because there does not appear to be much going on in classrooms.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/what-the-us-cant-learn-from-finland-about-ed-reform/2012/04/16/gIQAGIvVMT_blog.html

See, Are Finnish schools the best in the world? http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/schools/are-finnish-schools-the-best-in-the-world-2289083.html

There are probably some lessons which can be learned from the Finnish experience, but we shouldn’t be looking through rose colored glasses.

Related:

Is it true that the dumbest become teachers?        https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2011/12/09/is-it-true-that-the-dumbest-become-teachers/

The next great civil rights struggle: Disparity in education funding https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2011/12/02/the-next-great-civil-rights-struggle-disparity-in-education-funding/

3rd world America: The link between poverty and education https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2011/11/20/3rd-world-america-the-link-between-poverty-and-education/

There is no “magic bullet” or “Holy Grail” in education, there is only what works for a given population of children to produce education achievement.

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

2 Responses to “The love affair with the Finnish education system”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. What exactly are the education practices of top-performing nations? « drwilda - May 28, 2012

    […] There are probably some lessons which can be learned from the Finnish experience, and the experiences of other nations, but we shouldn’t be looking through rose colored glasses. https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2012/04/17/the-love-affair-with-the-finnish-education-system/ […]

  2. Study:School reform, like politics is local « drwilda - October 3, 2012

    […] Pasi Sahlberg, author of “ Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn About Educational Change in Finland? ” writes in the Washington Post article, What the U.S. can’t learn from Finland about ed reform: What I have to say, however, is not always what they want to hear. While it is true that we can certainly learn from foreign systems and use them as backdrops for better understanding of our own, we cannot simply replicate them. What, then, can’t the United States learn from Finland? https://drwilda.com/2012/04/17/the-love-affair-with-the-finnish-education-system/ […]

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