Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

April 8, 2009


Six Degrees, Finland, 2007 - OECD statistics show that Finland spends just 6.1% of its gross domestic product on education, significantly below the OECD average of 6.3%, and well below spending levels in many similarly wealthy countries. . .

Finnish kids only graduate from the kindergarten sandpit to the primary school at age 7. Their schooldays remain short, often ending as early as midday or one o'clock, and their 10-week summer holidays must be the envy of kids all over the world. All in all, Finnish pupils spend an OECD record low total of some 5,523 hours at their desks, compared to the average of 6,847 hours. . .

The results of Finland's brightest students are not significantly above those from other successful countries, but where Finland really shines is in the scores of the lowest performing students. This means that very few Finnish schoolchildren are falling fall through the educational net. . .

Looking after low achievers The Finnish system is designed along egalitarian principles, with few fee-paying private schools, and very little streaming of pupils into different schools or classes according to their exam results. . .

Karen Utley. Statesman Journal - Educators from around the world are fascinated by the success of Finnish schools. With dropout rates of about 7 percent, top scores on international tests and students who transition into one of the most productive work forces in the world, Finnish education is impressive.

Visitors to Finland in search of its educational secrets discover relaxed, cooperative classrooms, strong early emphasis on math, science and languages - physics and chemistry in middle school, and proficiency in Finnish, English and Swedish by the seventh grade - and high-quality, creative teaching.

Americans notice particularly the absence of some favorite strategies: early childhood education (Finnish kids start school at age 7), restrictive rules (no tardy bells, no school uniforms), continuous standardized testing (high school students don't even experience standardized tests until they take exit exams at age 18.)

One of my daughters-in-law is Finnish and is a graduate of Finland's education system. She explained to me how the casualness of the Finnish language and culture affects the dynamics of classroom relationships. In Finnish, for example, it is perfectly respectful to call a teacher by her first name. She described how some students are selected (according to their grades) for specialty schools, such as the math-focused high school she attended, and how students who excelled there were challenged by increasingly difficult assignments - matched to their abilities.

She assured me that Finnish teenagers are quite similar to American kids - not necessarily more bookish or less rebellious. She reported that Finnish parents allow their children much more unsupervised independence at younger ages than is common in the United States.

Teachers in Finland's schools are given more freedom too. Finnish teachers . . . customize lessons, choose books and select activities - within the expectations of national standards - to shape their programs around the skills of their particular students. By comparison, education in many other countries "feels like a car factory," according to Andreas Schleicher, director of the international PISA tests.

Perhaps it is because teachers are encouraged to think for themselves that so many talented people in Finland are attracted to the profession. Although teachers there must hold master's degrees and salaries are not high - they're comparable to those of U.S. teachers - competition for jobs is stiff; 40 applicants may apply for a single position.


Blogger Lars said...

This is all well and good, but my mother always points out to me that it's an excellent model, but may not work in these United States. My mom taught for over 30 years in cities with poor immigrant populations such as Lowell, MA and Hollywood Florida. And one of the keys to Finnish success is their lack of diversity for one and their much better social support network. But she does agree that sending kids to school for longer days or less summer isn't going to benefit everyone.

April 8, 2009 3:00 PM  

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