How the Finns got it so right

This article from yesterday’s Irish Times is a must-read for all those with an interest in school education. The following summary is from the end of the article:

  • The Finns have a high regard for and confidence in their schooling system and a high opinion of schooling.
  • All teachers must hold a masters degree; most train for at least five-and-a-half years.
  • Status of teachers is high and teaching is one of the most coveted and popular professions.
  • 400 local councils or municipalities administer schools. Schools are free to tailor education to local needs.
  • Government only sets overall objectives.
  • Principal has key role in driving education, responsible for the school’s entire operation and pupil assessment and budget.
  • Principals evaluate teacher performance focusing on mastery of the profession, pupil performance and ability to co-operate.
  • No national evaluation system for teacher work, no external inspection system and no focus on league tables.
  • Compulsory nine-year basic schooling is free for all aged 7-16 years.
  • Schools have a statutory obligation to maintain contact with homes.
  • Although it is interesting to read such a list, and note the points of contrast with schooling elsewhere, I wonder whether it’s like listing the ingredients of a cake without having the recipe or the baking expertise. What we are talking about here is a whole culture (the finished cake). The article points to two core ingredients: first, quality teacher training; and second, a high regard for the teaching profession. These are then reflected in government policy. Seppo Tella, professor of language education (and teaching matters) at the University of Helsinki, indicates another cultural aspect: ‘What visiting educators from over 50 countries have found in Finland is simple: well trained teachers and responsible children’. Although there is mention elsewhere of teachers and pupils as ‘equal partners’ on first-name terms, this passing reference to the attitude of the children is, I believe, highly significant, because it is an indicator of the cultural matrix to which such an attitude inextricably belongs.


    4 Responses to “How the Finns got it so right”

    1. Averil Says:

      Hi Simon
      Inspirational reading.

      “Finnish academics routinely refer to their teaching force as the crème de la crème”.

      It reminded me of the talk Carmen Lawrence gave last year where she cited that the countries with the best academic outcomes were the ones that closed the gap between the weaker and the stonger students. Equity in education underpins this.

      Schools in England used to provide warm meals. It makes sense in very cold climates. Maybe the provision of meals also provides a sense of commmunity and equality too?

    2. Mark Pegrum Says:

      I taught briefly in Finland many years ago and found the experience quite different from any teaching I’ve done in Australia or the UK. Of course, political progressives everywhere view Scandinavia as a model for social and educational policy, but the big question is how – indeed, whether – it would be possible to translate the social processes in these countries (with their relatively small and homogenous populations) into other national and cultural contexts. I daresay Simon is right to suggest that the whole cultural matrix needs to be taken into account.

    3. meredithgreen Says:

      I am jealous. To me equality seems to be pivotal to Finland’s success. Equality across professions, equality in schooling in the country and equality within the classroom. Local control is also obviously important, but I think it needs broader societal values to sit within. For example, the school I am doing my capstone project at is a locally controlled school. It also seems to have the level of care for students as that provided in Finland, like providing food and so on. However, I doubt similar results will be seen there because the culture of equality in the ways described above does not exist in Australia.

    4. Julie Says:

      Thanks for the link.

      Well summarised, too.

      I was interested in the free, nutritionally sound, warm lunch. Even in our top schools some kids come to school hungry and have a poor lunch; imagine the difference in afternoon concentration (and local continuing employment – unless they reach kids to cater) if the school system paid for a good lunch.

      Changing the social matrix from a focus on immediate financial self interest, the politics of envy, and disdain of public servants (e.g. teachers) as “mere servants” (oh, that nouveau riche giveaway!) will be a (hm) of a job. I’ve been trying locally for years, and the current crop of politicians don’t make me feel effective.

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