Finnish Lessons – What We Can Learn

One Factor Trumps All Others

  • Sahlberg sees the daily contribution of excellent teachers as the key to Finland’s success. The public rates teaching as a most admired profession, ahead of medical doctors and lawyers. This is due in part to the competition to become a teacher. Only one in ten applicants are accepted to prepare for teaching in spite of the modest salaries (slightly less than average in US when experience is considered). Finland is unique in this respect. Due to the quality of the candidates, teacher education is rigorous. A research-based master’s is required and there are no alternate paths to certification. More than 95% are members of Finland’s teachers union.

Why Teach if You’re Judged by Standardized Tests

  • The professional autonomy and trust teachers enjoy helps attract top candidates. Many teachers in Finland would seek other jobs if they had external pressure of standardized tests like US & England. Mentoring and professional development varies from one municipality to another. Three days of professional development are required and the national average is seven. The question of teacher effectiveness or consequences of being ineffective is not relevant in Finland. Principals use their experience to help teachers improve. The additional time to work with colleagues also addresses teacher quality. Principals must be experienced teachers and must complete additional studies in administration and leadership. Many also teach a few classes a week.

Other Countries Catching On

  • Alberta has removed standardized assessments and is the highest performing provence in Canada. Wales has done so and England is putting an end to it in primary schools. China is loosening its standardized control on education by making school-based curriculum a national policy priority. Japan and Singapore are following these trends. (Doug: Meanwhile in the US we are plowing forward with teacher evaluation systems that factor in standardized test scores and national standards. How can we be so out of it?)

How the US Discourages Innovation

  • Reform in the US assumes that external performance standards and describing what teachers and students should do leads to better learning for all. A second assumption is that competition between schools, teachers, and students is the most productive way to raise quality. Sahlberg’s view is that this sort of thing pushes teachers to do what is safe rather than to try new ideas and approaches. It also prevents a school from becoming a creative and inspiring place to teach and learn.
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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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