Why are Finland’s schools successful?

3 12 2012

As I find myself still thinking about last week’s post and our most recent report cards, I share for additional contemplation on the topic of external referencing and self-worth, the following excerpt from an interesting article I received from a friend.  With such an interesting dichotomy in education systems, I wonder how Finnish parents apply the coach approach to parenting their children?  Enjoy and I welcome your thoughts!

Excerpt from: Why are Finland’s schools successful?

The Nordic country’s achievements in education have other nations doing their homework

by LynNell Hancock  Updated 11:43 PM Nov 02, 2012

BEST SCORES IN THE WORLD

The transformation of the Finns’ education system began some 40 years ago as the key propellant of the country’s economic recovery plan.

Educators had little idea it was so successful until 2000, when the first results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a standardized test given to 15-year-olds in more than 40 global venues, revealed Finnish youth to be the best young readers in the world. Three years later, they led in math. By 2006, Finland was first out of 57 countries (and a few cities) in science.

In the 2009 PISA scores, the nation came in second in science, third in reading and sixth in math among nearly half a million students worldwide. “I’m still surprised,” said Arjariita Heikkinen, principal of a Helsinki comprehensive school. “I didn’t realize we were that good.”

In the United States, which has muddled along in the middle for the past decade, government officials have attempted to introduce marketplace competition into public schools. In recent years, a group of Wall Street financiers and philanthropists such as Bill Gates have put money behind private-sector ideas, such as vouchers, data-driven curriculum and charter schools, which have doubled in number in the past decade.

President Obama, too, has apparently bet on competition. His Race to the Top initiative invites states to compete for federal dollars using tests and other methods to measure teachers, a philosophy that would not fly in Finland. “I think, in fact, teachers would tear off their shirts,” said Timo Heikkinen, a Helsinki principal with 24 years of teaching experience. “If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect.”

ONLY ONE EXAM

There are no mandated standardized tests in Finland, apart from one exam at the end of students’ senior year in high school. There are no rankings, no comparisons or competition between students, schools or regions.

Finland’s schools are publicly funded. The people in the government agencies running them, from national officials to local authorities, are educators, not business people, military leaders or career politicians. Every school has the same national goals and draws from the same pool of university-trained educators.

The result is that a Finnish child has a good shot at getting the same quality education no matter whether he or she lives in a rural village or a university town. The differences between weakest and strongest students are the smallest in the world, according to the most recent survey by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

“Equality is the most important word in Finnish education. All political parties on the right and left agree on this,” said Olli Luukkainen, president of Finland’s powerful teachers union.

Ninety-three percent of Finns graduate from academic or vocational high schools, 17.5 percentage points higher than the US, and 66 percent go on to higher education, the highest rate in the European Union. Yet Finland spends about 30 percent less per student than the US.

Still, there is a distinct absence of chest-thumping among the famously reticent Finns. They are eager to celebrate their recent world hockey championship, but PISA scores, not so much.

“We prepare children to learn how to learn, not how to take a test,” said Pasi Sahlberg, a former math and physics teacher who is now in Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture. “We are not much interested in PISA. It’s not what we are about.” (…)

LynNell Hancock writes about education and teaches at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. This article originally appeared in the September 2011 edition of the SMITHSONIAN. You may find the complete article at: http://www.todayonline.com/CommentaryandAnalysis/Commentary/EDC121102-0000191/Why-are-Finlands-schools-successful

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