Friday, April 16, 2010

Finland is Number One.....maybe?

[Stick with me with the fonts, size and graphics.  I've been told that the graphics are not showing up on some computer screens and on others, the graphics have changing backgrounds.  They were black lines on white background, so if you're getting something else, hang in there.  Sorry]

In recent days, indeed even in Professor Ravitch's latest book, The Death and Life of the Great American School system, and in several journal and newspaper articles, The Republic of Finland (yes, that is the correct name) has been touted as having a superior educational system as compared to the United States.  Once you study the Finland educational system you will not find this hard to believe.  And, according to several international surveys or tests, the Finland boys and girls are number one in Science and Mathematics as compared to forty seven other industrialized nations.  

When I studied Finland's system of education I was pleased to see that they had a broad curriculum, as in, they taught their children science, mathematics, reading, writing, languages (supposedly two languages), art, music and theater. Another interesting part of their educational system is that they have a shorter day and a shorter school year.  Well, for heaven's sakes. But they out do the U.S..  How come?

But lets look at the basics first. The Finnish child starts public school when they are seven and normally complete this part of their education when they are sixteen.  Nine years of education....  For a number of years I have been in error in saying that when comparing our students in the U.S. to the Finnish student we are comparing high school to a university student.  Not so.  The latest comparisons by UNESCO are with essentially fifteen year olds in science and mathematics.  Finland appears to have the best educational system in the world.  What do they do?  

Let's considered some data.  First, Finland is considered one of the smaller European countries in terms of population and that population is made up of Fins, Swedish Fins (speak another language) and Samis or Laplanders of which there are only 15,000 mostly in the far north of Finland.  School starts at eight in the morning and continues to somewhere between noon and two o'clock.  A free hot lunch is provided to all children.  When school is let out, students are allowed to go out to play or attend special after school programs such as dance, art and music.  Parents normally pick up their children at four o'clock.   

So we can assume that there are not a lot of minorities and because the economic level is very high in Finland, there are little or no areas of poor as we might know it here in the United States.  In my perusal of the Finnish educational system I found out that they have modeled their teaching style on the French Educational Philosopher, Celestin Freinet (whom I've only read about and not much at that).  Freinet espoused "learn by doing" and if you've been with me in the previous blog, was a Realist.  In one school groups of children designed, write and publish a magazine under the guidance of the teacher.

Although children start public education when they are seven, there are abundant pre-schools for children to attend.  Pre-schools are taught by teachers with B.A. degrees and are part of the Finnish government.  The initial school is called a primary school and goes through approximately the ninth grade.  The next level is the secondary school and that is broken into two sections--the trade school and the academic oriented upper secondary which leads to the university or tertiary level.  

As I read about the Finnish schools I kept looking to see what was of critical importance to make them different.  I kept coming back to my bias--the teachers.  Teachers in the primary and secondary schools have masters degree. Okay, so do most of ours.  Finnish teachers who teach in the primary schools are "class" teachers and those that teach in the secondary schools are "subject" teachers.... to some degree not much different from here.

But as I read about the teachers I did detect what I think is an important difference.  Teachers in Finland are highly respected.  Many want to be a teacher but only 10 to 20 percent of those applying to the university are accepted.  Now this could be a closed loop in a way.  "You're a teacher?"  This person had to get though a lot to become one--they must be good.  Whereas in the United States there is the belief that if you can't do, teach.  And this is strange because in my university it was difficult to get to be an education major. 

There seems to be an attitude in the United States at this time to place all of the educational woes on the classroom teacher.  I'm not sure why?  "Get rid of all the poor teachers."  "Anyone can teach." (see Teach for America)  "Get rid of the teacher unions and our education will improve."  "Anyone can run a school--let business do it."  "In my day we only needed a blackboard and a book... and a wrap of the ruler over our hands when we didn't pay attention."  I've heard all of these and then some over the years.  My favorite is from a friend of mine who says repeatedly, "When you fire all the bad teachers, I'll vote for the public schools."  Sad.

Today was a brief (simplistic for my friend) review of the Finnish schools.  The have a shorter day and a shorter year and yet they out do us in educating their children.  Interesting.

And thanks to all our teachers who keep working to educate our kids.  I appreciate what you do.  You're the best!


  1. 幽默並不是諷刺,它或許帶有溫和的嘲諷,卻不傷人,它可能是以別人,也可以用自己為對象。........................................

  2. Very helpful blog.

    I am working towards teaching in Canada. But there are far too many applicants, many are denied, and still there are no jobs because every discipline is saturated (apart from French, Math and Science or maybe a specialized subject like drama).

    Its a bit of an industrial machine, sucking in teachers and throwing them out to compete amongst themselves all to clinch a career.

    The Globe and Mail has a whole series this week dedicated to some of the issues in Canadian education, so if you're interested check it out.

    Also, where should I start with Celestin Freinet?

  3. also of interest is the smaller, more cohesive culture. perhaps a coherent tradition that has deep roots to the past may account for some of the successes -in school and the household.

    I am interested to see how much of an emphasis on individualism, romanticism, the therapeutic etc, that Finnish schools/societies have compared to NA.

  4. It may be dated, but here's one article I found:

    International Review of Education
    Vol. 33, No. 3, The Changing Role of the Teacher (1987), pp. 307-312
    Published by: Springer