Ah, Finland, you have so much going for you: a ranking as the number one place in the world to be a parent, extensive maternity and family benefits, and schools that don’t have an obsession with test-taking or giving boatloads of homework, yet still produce high-achieving students. So, how does this country manage to inspire students who score well on international assessment tests while flouting some of the techniques that we typically associate with achievement such as memorization, supplementary learning/ tutoring, and a less is more approach for standardized tests? The answer, according to Pasi Sahlberg, Finnish Ministry of Education’s Center for International Mobility and author of the new book Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?, may be Finland’s prioritizing of equality and accessibility over competition and “excellence.” Read on for how this country turned around its educational system using a united, fair, and egalitarian approach and alternative assessment tools (for both students and teachers).
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Sahlberg, who recently spoke in New York about Finland’s educational system, discussed how virtually all schools (including universities) in Finland are public, with even independent schools being publicly financed and tuition free. This practice forms the basis of equality since all students will be getting a fair and free education. And “free and fair” includes this mentality: “every child should have exactly the same opportunity to learn, regardless of family background, income, or geographic location. Education has been seen first and foremost not as a way to produce star performers, but as an instrument to even out social inequality.” Finnish students also get free lunches and easy access to health care among other perks. Sahlberg points out that cooperation is valued between teachers and between schools as opposed to competition, reinforcing this ideology at multiple levels.
Another important aspect of Finnish schools are the teachers. Finnish teachers, all of whom have Master’s degrees, are allowed to create their own curriculum and even create their own assessment tests. Teachers aren’t scrutinized and criticized for their students’ performances on standardized tests because there’s only one exam, and it is only taken at the end of upper-secondary school (similar to high school). And they are well-respected as well as paid generously. The result: 90% of Finnish teachers stay in their field for their whole career (in the U.S. 50% of teachers leave their job after five years).
Finland’s educational system wasn’t known for being especially strong until it revamped its priorities to attempt to prepare all of its students well and to invest in a “knowledge-based economy.” It now ranks among the top scoring countries for the international PISA survey, while the United States remains squarely in the middle. While Finland as a country differs wildly in size from the United States and is much more homogeneous, this education powerhouse offers important potential tips for how creating a more equal and accessible educational system will benefit not only its students, but the country as a whole.
via The Atlantic