Why Finland Succeeds

Nov 23, 2012 by

Dr. Pasi Sahlberg, who is the author of “Finnish Lessons”

Kaarina Jager
Eastern New Mexico University
Educational Studies
Portales, New Mexico

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend FinnFest 2012, on Oct. 10th, in Tucson, Arizona, a Finnish American celebration, part of which was dedicated to sharing about to the educational success in Finland with local educators. This is a brief summary on some ideas from the last decades which ideas have made Finland one of the most successful nations as far as student international comparisons in literacy, science, and math scores among 15 year old students in appr. 40 industrialized countries go. Other success stories are Canada, South Korea, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. The seminar was available as a credit for U of A in Tucson and ASU students in Phoenix.

Dr. Pasi Sahlberg, who is the author of “Finnish Lessons”, presided over the workshop with professors and teachers from Finland.

1. SUPPORT for STUDENTS: optional daycare, nursery school, and pre-school programs are available for free to children and are taught by minimim bachelor-degreed staff. Official school starting age is 7 in Finland, and mandatory schooling stops after 9th grade. For the first few years, about a third of the students are in special education programs where most minor problems can be corrected and support provided for immigrant children for extra lessons in their own language. Foreign students are expected to learn Finnish in one year, for example. Daily morning, lunch, and afternoon recesses (15 minutes) are mandatory, and play, movement, and music are incorporated in all students’ schedule in which students spend less time in school that their counterparts in America. Competitive sports are considered an after-school activity.

2. SUPPORT for TEACHERS: competition for entry into teacher education programs is high so only 1 out of 10 gets into these highly prestigious programs. Master’s degree is required for all elementary, middle school, and high school, including vocational high school, teachers. Teaching is one the most respected professions in Finland, and teachers are considered professionals who can make professional decisions concerning their students. Since students spend less time in school, teachers have more time to plan and work cooperatively with other teachers. Teacher turnover is small. There is hardly any mandatory national testing (teachers do evaluate their students), but there is the final matricualtion exam for all academic high school students and various vocational competions for vocational students.

3. SUPPORT for CAREERS: there is continuous career counceling for elementary/middle school students and participation in apprenticeships for all students. After 9th grade, education is optional, but almost all of the students continue in small academic or vocational high schools  which both can lead further to bachelor’s or master’s degrees in universities or vocational colleges. High school dropout is minimal. Finland has been education friendly for centuries and has had to compete, as a small country, with its larger neighbors for resources and people. Basic reading and writing have been mandatory to all citizens of Finland by the Lutheran Church since 500 years, and the guild systems of various professions dates back a long time also although the first University in Finland was established only about 400 years ago.

4. SUPPORT for FAMILIES: Finland is a country where there is a relatively small gap in income, education, health care, ethnicity etc. among the parents, and the majority of people are Finnish-born and Lutherans. Thus, when the society as a whole functions well, the schools will too. However, today there are immigrant and refugee groups from linguistic and religious minorities which are provided with a few hours of weekly support instruction in their own language and religion in schools. Religious education is provided for all major groups by public schools in Finland. Because of relative homogenity of the society, the Finnish system is not directly transferable, but in smaller states like New Mexico, where the vast majority of students are Hispanic, for example, pilot programs could be experimented with. Local schools and teachers are strongly supported by Finnish parents, and politicians rarely interfere. In addition, the education system is run with less money than in America.

Your comments, corrections, and questions are welcome!

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