What everybody ought to know about education in Finland

Finland takes education very seriously and holds teachers in high esteem. Can the U.S. learn from Finland’s education model?


Last month, the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), a triennial international survey which aims to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students, ranked the U.S. 26 out of 34 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries in reading, science and math.

According to OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria, the U.S. remained “fundamentally flat” compared with many other countries that have improved their PISA performances over the past decade.

Alarmed by these staggering figures, some American educators are rethinking conventional notions of education reform. Experts are exploring alternative models to not only improve test results in the United States, but to provide students with the necessary skills to be productive citizens and more marketable in the workforce.

(Next page: Watch American academic Tony Wagner on Finland’s education model)

Watch American academic Tony Wagner explain Finland’s education success.

Can Finland, which consistently ranks high in PISA scores, serve as a model for academic inspiration?

“Whatever it takes” attitude

Unlike other nations, Finland is unique in that it holds teachers in very high esteem. Teachers in Finland must possess a master’s degree and pass a rigorous application process. Only teachers from the top 10 percent of their graduating class are recruited. In 2010 nearly 7,000 applicants competed for 660 available positions in primary school preparation programs in the 8 universities that educate teachers.

Because classroom sizes are relatively small, teachers have greater flexibility to experiment with different learning strategies. Unlike the U.S., there are no standardized tests except for one exit examination upon graduation. Teachers are also given greater autonomy and treated more like college professors. They are encouraged to emphasize critical thinking over simply memorizing facts and dates.

In the past few decades, the Finnish government adopted a radical approach to ensure that all Finns would be entitled to a quality education. Free education is provided from kindergarten to higher education.

In primary school, students receive free textbooks, daily meals and transportation for those living far away from school. In secondary school and in higher education, students are required to buy their own textbooks; however they can select a free meal and in higher education the state subsidizes meals.

Finland seeks to eradicate achievement gaps: Underprivileged students can seek financial aid for full-time study in an upper secondary school, vocational institution or institution of higher education.

For more on this issue, please read

How PISA results will impact U.S. schools

PISA results yield 4 key actions for U.S. education

Report: International tests severely misrank U.S. students

Why Are Finland’s Schools Successful?

How Finland became an education leader

What if Finland’s great teachers taught in U.S. schools?

What are your thoughts about Finland’s attitude toward education? Do you think there are certain aspects which can be applied in the United States? Share your thoughts with us by commenting on this article and connecting with us on Twitter @eschoolnews.

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