On Top of the World: How the Finns Educate Their Children

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What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart? - WSJ

Yet the Finns seem to be onto something. Neighboring Norway, a country of similar size, embraces education policies similar to those in the United States. The year-old boxy school building sat in a wooded area, around the corner from a subway stop flanked by gas stations and convenience stores. Half of its first- through ninth-grade students have learning disabilities. All but the most severely impaired are mixed with the general education children, in keeping with Finnish policies. Working in teams, the 7- and 8-year-olds raced to see how quickly they could carry out their tasks.

They really learn with it. The school receives 47, euros a year in positive discrimination money to hire aides and special education teachers, who are paid slightly higher salaries than classroom teachers because of their required sixth year of university training and the demands of their jobs. There is one teacher or assistant in Siilitie for every seven students. In another classroom, two special education teachers had come up with a different kind of team teaching.

Each had students of wide-ranging abilities and special needs. Summa asked Kangasvieri if they might combine gymnastics classes in hopes good behavior might be contagious. It worked. This year, the two decided to merge for 16 hours a week. Every so often, principal Arjariita Heikkinen told me, the Helsinki district tries to close the school because the surrounding area has fewer and fewer children, only to have people in the community rise up to save it.

Until the late s, Finns were still emerging from the cocoon of Soviet influence. Most children left public school after six years.

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The rest went to private schools, academic grammar schools or folk schools, which tended to be less rigorous. Only the privileged or lucky got a quality education. The landscape changed when Finland began trying to remold its bloody, fractured past into a unified future. For hundreds of years, these fiercely independent people had been wedged between two rival powers—the Swedish monarchy to the west and the Russian czar to the east. Neither Scandinavian nor Baltic, Finns were proud of their Nordic roots and a unique language only they could love or pronounce.

In , Finland was ceded to Russia by the Swedes, who had ruled its people some years. The czar created the Grand Duchy of Finland, a quasi-state with constitutional ties to the empire. He moved the capital from Turku, near Stockholm, to Helsinki, closer to St. After the czar fell to the Bolsheviks in , Finland declared its independence, pitching the country into civil war.

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Three more wars between and —two with the Soviets, one with Germany—left the country scarred by bitter divisions and a punishing debt owed to the Russians. In , the Finnish Parlia-ment made the bold decision to choose public education as its best shot at economic recovery. If we want to be competitive, we need to educate everybody. It all came out of a need to survive. Practically speaking—and Finns are nothing if not practical—the decision meant that goal would not be allowed to dissipate into rhetoric.

Lawmakers landed on a deceptively simple plan that formed the foundation for everything to come. Teachers from all over the nation contributed to a national curriculum that provided guidelines, not prescriptions.

More cred than doctors

Resources were distributed equally. As the comprehensive schools improved, so did the upper secondary schools grades 10 through From then on, teachers were effectively granted equal status with doctors and lawyers. Applicants began flooding teaching programs, not because the salaries were so high but because autonomy and respect made the job attractive. In , some 6, applicants vied for primary school training slots, according to Sahlberg.

By the mids, a final set of initiatives shook the classrooms free from the last vestiges of top-down regulation. Control over policies shifted to town councils. The national curriculum was distilled into broad guidelines. National math goals for grades one through nine, for example, were reduced to a neat ten pages.

Sifting and sorting children into so-called ability groupings was eliminated. All children—clever or less so—were to be taught in the same classrooms, with lots of special teacher help available to make sure no child really would be left behind. And there are still challenges. At the same time, immigrants poured into the country, clustering in low-income housing projects and placing added strain on schools. A few years ago, Kallahti principal Timo Heikkinen began noticing that, increasingly, affluent Finnish parents, perhaps worried about the rising number of Somali children at Kallahti, began sending their children to one of two other schools nearby.

And a new biology lab with 3-D technology allows older students to observe blood flowing inside the human body. It has yet to catch on, Heikkinen admits. Continue or Give a Gift. Privacy Policy , Terms of Use Sign up. SmartNews History. History Archaeology. World History. Featured: The Suspect in City Hall. Science Age of Humans. Future of Space Exploration. Human Behavior. Our Planet. Earth Optimism Summit. Ingenuity Ingenuity Festival. The Innovative Spirit. Travel Taiwan. American South. Travel With Us.

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Basically, the fundamental value that permeates the entire Finnish educational system is trust among its members , based on the rigid standard of professional selection and on the high quality of the pedagogical and ethical training of its staff. Educational accountability in the Finnish education context preserves and enhances trust among teachers, students, school leaders, and education authorities, and it involves them in the process, offering them a strong sense of professional responsibility and initiative.

Shared responsibility for teaching and learning characterizes how educational accountability is arranged in Finland. Parents, students, and teachers prefer smart accountability that enables schools to keep the focus on learning and permit more degrees of freedom in curriculum planning, compared to the external standardized testing culture that prevails in some other nations Sahlberg, , p.

Still according to Sahlberg , educational authorities and parents understand that education is a highly complex process to be measured and evaluated by purely quantitative parameters, because in the educational system of that nation the existing operative principle is that quality is defined by mutual interaction between schools and students along with parents. Another feature of the Finnish educational model that contributes decisively to the effectiveness and fluidity of the system is the decentralization of decision-making power to the local authorities, i.

As stated by those authors, with the extinction of the national inspection of didactic material occurred in the early s, all schools and their teachers began to choose the books to be used, which occurs in only The culture of trust [widespread throughout that society] means that education authorities and national level education policymakers believe that teachers, together with principals, headmasters and parents, know how to provide the best possible education for children and youth at a certain level.

Sahlberg , p. In the words of this educator:. People sometimes incorrectly assume that equity in education means all students should be taught the same curriculum, or should achieve the same learning outcomes in school. This was also a common belief in Finland for a long time following the equality-based school reform that was first launched in the early s. Rather, equity in education 7 means that all students must have access to high-quality education, regardless of where they live, who their parents might be, or what school they attend.

In this sense, equity ensures that differences in educational outcomes are not the result of differences in wealth, income, power or possessions - in other words, home background.

Why Finland Has the Best Schools

Known as Peruskoulu and implemented since the early s, this principle has thenceforth-structured basic education in that country, in which all students learn together in comprehensive schools 8. The central idea of Peruskoulu [ This meant that the placement of students after 4 years of primary education into grammar and civic streams 9 would come to an end.

All students, regardless of their domicile, socioeconomic background, or interests would enroll in the same 9-year basic schools governed by local education authorities.

Finland's education system puts the US model to shame - Business Insider

This implementation was revolutionary. It was clear that success came precisely from the ethical-political choice of not seeking to create small geniuses, but rather to raise the performance of each child, without distinction. That is, to raise national performance in terms of learning by supporting all learners, not just a privileged minority, as it occurs in the global corporate education model, which segregates students into subgroups based on their previous or expected performance All education in that country, from preschool to post-graduation, is completely tuition-free for all students 11 Sahlberg, Regarding higher education, the Finnish system is one of the most equitable in the world.

The Higher Education Strategy Associates, based in Toronto, Canada, compares standards of equity and equality in higher education in different countries. Its Global Higher Education Ranking Usher; Medow, compares the accessibility of higher education for residents in 17 countries. The study presents data concerning six different indicators of affordability 12 and four of accessibility The big winner on both criteria in was Finland.

It is difficult not to realize that, in accordance with the prevailing social policy paradigm in that country, it is overwhelmingly understood that the expenses incurred by its educational system constitute an investment of unquestionable relevance for the whole society, and not a weighty cost on the national economy. The purpose was to provide all teachers with as high a quality of knowledge as possible, based on the latest research. In addition, teachers had to be prepared to follow and exploit the newest research findings in their teaching.

This laid the foundation for the idea of seeing teachers as researchers in their own field of work. Teachers were expected to work with an open and critical mind and to contribute to the development of their profession. Simultaneously, the scientific content and the advances of pedagogical research began to enrich the curriculum of teacher training, which had then assumed an academic nature, in the sense that the teachers adopted, in their work, a critical and analytical perspective, oriented to research, so as to focus their activities not only in the classroom, but also in school planning and evaluation activities and in curriculum development, in which they participate, along with principals and local education authorities, notably as a corollary of the high standard of their professional and intellectual training Sahlberg, Its balance between theoretical and practical learning helps young teachers to understand the various teaching methods as well as the dynamics of the correlation between teaching and learning.

With such high expertise and professional prestige, nothing could be more expected than the motivation that leads teachers to engage in the processes of educational development in their own schools, as well as in national and international projects. Besides that, educators spontaneously continue to enhance their own professional knowledge and skills, considering the support they receive from the state in this dimension a right, not an obligation, as it occurs in prescriptive educational systems based on teacher accountability as justification for neoliberal reforms.

High status and good working conditions - small classes, adequate support for counsellors and special needs teachers, a voice in school decisions, low levels of discipline problems, high levels of professional autonomy - create large pools of applicants, leading to highly selective and intensive teacher-preparation programmes. This, in turn, leads to success in the early years of teaching, relative stability of the teacher workforce, success in teaching of which PISA results are only one example , and a continuation of the high status of teaching.

It should be noted that Sahlberg points out that the high professional status of teachers in Finnish society is a cultural phenomenon, but that their theoretical and pedagogical ability in the classroom and their enthusiastic and contagious involvement in the collaborative activities developed in networks of professional communities have their roots in the very model of teacher training, systematically delineated and implemented since the late s, as well as in the ethical and epistemological foundation and in the values that guide the system.

In other words, the political option to invest heavily in the formation of the national faculty was clearly assumed and effectively adopted by that society. The discrepancy between the Finnish educational model and its neoliberal counterpart manifests notably in the theoretical and methodological options of the former, which prioritize the consistency and quality of the formative processes, rather than the short term quest for quantitative results through usually discontinuous efforts, clearly uncoordinated among themselves and ineffective from the pedagogical point of view, a modus operandi which is characteristic of the global corporate model of education.

The same rationale applies, similarly, to the burden of homework assignments and standardized learning tests to which students are subjected. Sahlberg points out that nations with the best performances in the PISA tests in all cognitive domains Finland, South Korea and Japan, for example devote fewer hours to formal instruction in the classroom, which means that students in these educational systems attend on average two years of formal pre-tertiary education less than their counterparts in other countries with opposite educational policies. This difference is further reinforced by the fact that compulsory basic education in Finland starts only at the age of 7, not at 5, as in most of the other countries.

According to Sahlberg , between the 6 th and 8 th grades of elementary education, Finnish teachers teach approximately hours per year in classrooms, the lowest working hours among OECD countries, while, according to this organization, in the United States the total annual average time of teachers in classroom, in the same series, is 1, hours The quality versus quantity paradox manifests itself in the same way in the issue of assigning homework for students. Once again, Finland leads a ranking of educational systems in OECD countries, this time with the lowest weekly workload among 38 surveyed nations, 2.

Contrary to this view, there is no mentoring or reinforcement in Finland other than those offered at the school itself, which the pupil attends when this becomes necessary Sahlberg, There is considerable cross-country variation in the degree to which students feel anxiety when dealing with mathematics, with students in France, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Spain, and Turkey reporting feeling most concerned and students in Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden least concerned [ For example, more than half of the students in France and Japan report that they get very tense when they have to do mathematics homework, but only 7 per cent of students in Finland and the Netherlands report this.

Another feature of the Finnish educational system discrepant from the global corporate education model is the nearly complete absence of standardized performance tests outside schools. Its students only face tests of this type at the end of elementary school, at the age of 18 or 19, with a view to entering universities. Indeed, school evaluation in the Finnish model is based on principles diametrically opposed to those prevailing in its neoliberal counterpart.

Finland does not have a system of standardised testing or test-based accountability. It does not have systems of competitive choice between schools or order its schools in public performance rankings. There is an emphasis on evaluation for improvement, especially through school self-evaluation which is incorporated into national evaluations. Again, the results of PISA seem to indicate the perspicacy of the Nordic nation as far as the evaluation policy of its educational system is concerned.

By analyzing the results of the , , , and rounds of that OECD survey, Sahlberg identifies a downward trend in average mathematical 17 performance in the series in question, notably among students from the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Japan, and some states in Canada and Australia, precisely those countries that have opted for educational evaluation policies heavily focused on accountability through intensive use of high stake external tests.

Moving in the opposite direction, the successful Finnish school system, during the same period investigated, has emphasized investment in teacher improvement, participative development of curricula, leadership and collaborative networks between schools, processes in which the guiding element of the whole philosophy of the system, which permeates all dimensions involved, is mutual trust among all participants. Although this correlation pointed out by Sahlberg , per se, does not necessarily prove the failure of educational reform policies focused on high-stake external tests, it clearly shows that the resort to the use of a physical, logistic and personnel structure involved in the design and operationalization of these standardized tests as appropriate instruments to carry out the evaluation of the education system is not a necessary condition for improving the quality of education, as the Finnish model, moving in the opposite direction, has demonstrated this.

According to the researcher:. Testing itself is not a bad thing and I am not an antiassessment person. Problems arise when they become higher in stakes and include sanctions to teachers or schools as a consequence of poor performance. There are alarming reports from many parts of the world where high-stakes tests have been employed as part of accountability policies in education [ This evidence suggests that teachers tend to redesign their teaching according to these tests, give higher priority to those subjects that are tested, and adjust teaching methods to drilling and memorizing information rather than understanding knowledge.

Since there are no standardized high-stakes tests in Finland prior to the matriculation examination at the end of upper-secondary education, the teacher can focus on teaching and learning without the disturbance of frequent tests to be passed Sahlberg, , p. In fact, what emerges from the rationale of the evaluative strategy incorporated into the educational system of that country is that, by prioritizing creativity and respecting and accompanying the learning pace of each learner, enables their cognitive development to have as parameter their own features and abilities, and not uniform patterns externally determined by statistical indicators.

As the OECD itself acknowledges , p. Accountability in the Finnish system is built from the bottom up. Teacher candidates are selected in part based on their ability to convey their belief in the core mission of public education in Finland, which is deeply moral and humanistic as well as civic and economic. The preparation they receive is designed to build a powerful sense of individual responsibility for the learning and well-being of all the students in their care.

Infant education: offered up to 6 years old, when, then, children are entitled to one year of pre-schooling optional in order to smooth the transition to basic education. Basic education: to be accomplished at the basic common school comprehensive schools , from the age of 7, with compulsory attendance for nine years. Secondary education: corresponds to the second level of secondary education of the aforementioned classification, with non-compulsory attending and split in two paths: the general education, chosen by those who pursue the academic career or areas related to the humanities, or the vocational and training education, indicated for those who intend to work as technicians in companies and private organizations in general.

Usually carried out in three years, it precedes higher education, to which access is obtained, for universities, upon passing the entrance examinations and, for universities of applied sciences UAS , by means of proof of professional experience and satisfactory academic performance. The Finnish educational policy, whose majority of assumptions and paradigms are opposite to those found in the correspondent systems of those countries, is closely intertwined with the other social policies carried out by that State These achievements provide the basis for a desirable and beneficial assimilation of the positive aspects of the Finnish experience by other nations with a view to improving their educational systems.

It is important, notwithstanding, to harmonize satisfactorily two issues that are often dealt with in a dichotomous way, concealing the complexity of the reproducibility of the educational practices adopted by the Nordic country in other national formations. The strength of the national consensus around this mission is reflected, among other manifestations, in the solid permanence and consolidation of its free public education system since the early s, regardless of the ideological profile of the political parties that were in charge throughout this period, as well as in the strong resistance to the pressures of the global capitalist macrostructure, with a view to subsuming the education system of that country to the mechanisms of reproduction and accumulation of capital concentrated in the immense transnational monopolistic financial conglomerates Just as the efforts to mechanically transport to other countries and try to reproduce only certain aspects that have proved effective in the Finnish model are obviously innocuous, the accurate analysis of this model shows that the construction of the educational system itself takes place in the broad scope of the formulation and development of the welfare state set up in the nation since the dawn of the s.

From this perspective, education is integrated into the entire framework of public policies in that State, which supports and makes it an indispensable basis for social cohesion and the socioeconomic development of that nation. Attempting to reproduce an educational system with the values, foundations, principles and objectives found in the Finnish model in a foreign society characterized by high levels of social inequality and misery, absence of a minimally democratic political system and high levels of income concentration and economic power will prove to be a fruitless and frustrating experience.

On the other hand, the relative peculiarity of some features of the Finnish society, State and educational system should not serve as a pretext for disregarding its model as an educational paradigm to be sought by other nations, naturally through a process of mutual learning, collaboration and interaction among participants in the systems in comparison, aiming at the necessary adaptations to their respective social, cultural, political and economic contexts.

One of the claims of those who share such a misunderstanding has been that the small territorial extension and the small population of Finland are absent in many other countries, which would make its system unviable as a pattern to be considered in the educational policy formulations of other nations. The argument falls apart when one learns the fact that, for example, 30 of the 50 states of the United States have a population similar in size to that of this Nordic country, it being known that these political and administrative instances have, in the United States, for example, considerable administrative, pedagogical and financial autonomy to formulate their educational policies.

Therefore, no structural factor would, per se, prevent them from considering the alternatives adopted by the successful model of that northern European country. Another similarly mistaken idea points to the supposed ethnic and cultural homogeneity that allegedly exists in Finland, which does not occur in large countries trying to reformulate their educational systems. This trait has gradually lost relevance and intensity in that society in recent decades, with the upsurge of migratory processes coming mainly from other European countries.

However, what is striking is that, as Sahlberg reminds us, this same relative homogeneity can be found in Japan, South Korea, and Shanghai, whose educational systems are often taken as benchmarks by market-driven educational reformers, which demonstrates its fragility as an argument justifying the alleged inapplicability of the Finnish experience in other countries. Nonetheless, it has been realized that there are reasonably successful alternative education systems, whose assumptions are profoundly opposed to the overall corporate pattern of education, which can enable the nations victims of this ruse the possibility of cooperative development, with the participation of the broader segments of society, of an autonomous model compatible with the values of equality, dignity, fraternity and solidarity that guide the social groups that have already understood and matured the basic link between equity and social cohesion.

Aho, E. Policy development and reform principles of basic and secondary education in Finland since Washington, D.

Statistics Finland

Education Working Paper, Series 2. Bonal, X. The role of PISA in shaping hegemonic educational discourses, policies and practices: the case of Spain. Research in Comparative and International Education , v. La inutilidad de Pisa para las escuelas. Madri: Las Cataratas, Carnoy, M.

What do international tests really show about U. Economic Policy Institute Report , 28 jan. Acesso em: 5 ago. Gamoran, A. Is ability grouping equitable? Educational Leadership , n. Gough, I. Madri: H. Blume, Gramsci, A.

On Top of the World: How the Finns Educate Their Children On Top of the World: How the Finns Educate Their Children
On Top of the World: How the Finns Educate Their Children On Top of the World: How the Finns Educate Their Children
On Top of the World: How the Finns Educate Their Children On Top of the World: How the Finns Educate Their Children
On Top of the World: How the Finns Educate Their Children On Top of the World: How the Finns Educate Their Children
On Top of the World: How the Finns Educate Their Children On Top of the World: How the Finns Educate Their Children
On Top of the World: How the Finns Educate Their Children On Top of the World: How the Finns Educate Their Children
On Top of the World: How the Finns Educate Their Children On Top of the World: How the Finns Educate Their Children
On Top of the World: How the Finns Educate Their Children On Top of the World: How the Finns Educate Their Children

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