Finnish Lessons – What We Can Learn

The Role of Industry and Impact on the Economy

  • Unlike companies elsewhere, many Finnish companies pushed to keep teaching and learning open to new ideas and creativity. From 1993 when Finnish schools were mediocre and unemployment was high, the schools and the economy have both enjoyed rises to the top as highly educated people are essential for success in today’s knowledge-based economy. Finland also spends 4% of its GDP on research and development, which is about twice the average for other developed countries. At the same time, the quality of welfare services is high and income inequality is very low. Finland was the first country to make broadband internet connection a human right for everybody.

Will Finland Also Own the Future?

  • Sahlberg see the following trends for the future in Finnish schools. The most important of which includes a continuous renewal and continuous systemic transformation.
  • More individual customized learning paths and less teaching drawn from a standardized curriculum for all – This will include a focus on creativity, problem solving, and communication.
  • More learning out of school through media, the Internet, and from different social networks – Hand-held devices will provide online access to knowledge and other learners.
  • More attention developing better skills for social interaction, both virtual and real along with learning to cooperate with people who are very different – Learning how to solve problems as part of diverse groups will get more attention.

Dr. Doug: What Can the US Do Now?

  • It took Finland a while to go from mediocre to the top so we need to be patient. First and foremost we need raise our voices to convince policy makers to scrap our standardized testing and insistence on a national curriculum. If we build more trust and local control in to the system, we might encourage more top students to go into teaching. Next we should examine our needs and rate of teacher production. I suspect we are training more than we need and allowing just about anyone to enroll. Anything to make teacher education more selective and attractive is necessary. Teacher education should also require research.
  • High schools should be able to subdivide their courses so if you don’t do well you only lose six weeks rather than repeating an entire year. Students who come close should be given an option to finish at their own pace. If students plan to enter community colleges, don’t let them leave high school until there are ready for college. At the elementary level we need to bring special educators into the game early and often. We should also abolish grade retention except for extreme cases.
  • We just need the right vision at the top. Time to raise your voice!
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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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