Finnish Lessons – What We Can Learn

Learning from US Sources – Ironic!

  • Finland knew that it could not rely on pedagogical innovation coming from home due to its small size. It drew on work done mostly in the US to launch large scale use of cooperative learning and diverse teaching methods. It also adopted school improvement through networking within and between schools and self-regulation. All students get free nutritious meals, health services, psychological counseling, and student guidance. The Finnish system has also resisted infection of market-based competition and high-stakes testing.
  • Since 1970, reforms in Finnish schools have greatly increased the number of students finishing secondary schools and higher education programs. It is important to note that University and Trade Schools are free. This allows Finland to lead the world in terms of affordability and explains why 60% go on to some form of higher education.

Special Education Isn’t So Special

  • Up to half of the students who complete compulsory education at the age of 16 have received some kind of special education service at some point in their schooling. For any given year the number is one third with 8% receiving full-time service either in a regular school or a special institution. Early intervention is stressed with many children diagnosed before they enter school. Preschool is free and 98% of the population attends.
  • The fraction of students served by special education staff gradually decreases throughout primary school and goes up a bit during secondary school. This notion of prevention is opposite to most other nations who try to repair students after problems show up. This results in a gradual increase in the number served as students move from grade to grade. It should be noted that structural elements that cause failure like grade retention have been removed.

Why Are Finnish Students Tops in Math?

  • Sahlberg offers three possibilities. First more Finnish teachers specialize in the teaching of math during their university training. This means that all schools have a number of professionals who understand the nature of teaching, learning, and assessing mathematics. Second, there is a strong focus on problem solving, using math in new situations, and linking mathematics to the real world of students. Finally, there is close collaboration between the faculty of mathematics and the faculty of education at Finnish Universities and both faculties share responsibility for teacher education. Top science scores could be the result of a similar process which includes experimental hands-on science from the beginning.

Concerns About International Tests

  • Some teachers in Finland are afraid that the current movement that judges the quality of education by academic measures like international tests will lead to a narrowing of the curriculum and teaching at the expense of subjects not tested such as the arts and whole-person development. Many would also like to see such things as learning-to-learn skills, social competencies, self-awareness, and creativity reflected in the available assessments.
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3 Responses to “Finnish Lessons – What We Can Learn”

  1. DgBorn says:

    This is a nice summary.

    However, there’s a minor flaw in the description of the current structure of the Finnish education system. There is no standardized test at age 16; the national matriculation exam is the final test of the upper secondary school (called lukio, somewhat equivalent to the American high school, even though more advanced topics such as differential calculus are taught).

    Also, the test can be taken in three parts and students are free to choice which tests they will take, and will they take them in the spring or in the autumn.

    Those who choose the vocational education never take any standardized tests, and the choice between upper secondary school and vocational school is not entirely, or not even largely nowadays, determined by academic success: many successful students also opt for vocational education.

  2. Leah says:

    An amazing summary and thank you DgBorn for clearing that up. Actually, I also heard that the NME is also taken at 16.

    The overall picture I get is that things are much more customized in Finland- principals and administrators work with teachers to make them better at what they do best and teachers customize the student experience for each student helping them to achieve more in their strengths.

    I wonder if things are also different from an employer perspective. I feel like employers are one of the key driving factors to get all of our students in the US to college and some employers won’t value a vocational or trade school like they will a top University. I wonder if the culture is different in Finland.

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