Education in Finland

A look at the Finnish educational system.



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South Korean students spend way more time in the classroom than Americans. That’s what may explain why they have been outperforming us by leaps and bounds.

But there’s a country where student spend less time in class than South Koreans, and their performances is also off the charts: Finland.

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On the surface, Finland is the education world’s ultimate slacker.

Children don’t start school here until they are seven years old. They have far less homework than in many countries. And they log fewer hours in the classroom than most developed countries — even the United States.

But don’t be fooled.

Finnish students score first in the world in science, and second in the world in math.

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Pasi Sahlberg, Educator: “That’s kind of an amazing thing that we are able to achieve high internationally in these academic areas with our method with very little work, and very short school days.”

Pasi Sahlberg is a leading figure in Finland’s education field, and works with it’s ministry of education.

In his recent book, Finnish Lessons, he says, “Finland is less concerned about the amount of time students spend in class, than with *how* that time is spent.

Pasi Sahlberg, Educator: “If we could calculate how much time young people engage in learning, I think Finish young people are probably at the same level where your children or Japanese or Koreans are.”

In Finland’s schools, teachers spend less time drilling the facts, and more time developing students’ creativity.

Most importantly, says Salburg, hardly any time is spent preparing students for standardized tests.

Pasi Sahlberg, Educator: “We have deliberately removed all those things, we never had a standardized testing system, and I hope that we never will.”

But how can Finland still be so flexible in its approach, and still get great results?

The answer is simple: they have GREAT teachers.

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Teaching is a *highly* respected profession here — on par with doctors and lawyers.

That’s because they are ALL required to have master’s degrees.

The competition for those degrees is fierce: only one in ten applicants is accepted into primary teacher training programs.

Kristi Lauker, Professor of Educational Psychology: “The elementary teacher program is the hardest to get into — it’s harder to get in than medical school or law school.

Kristi Lauker, professor of educational psychology at the University of Helsinki, says her school routinely turns away highly qualified candidates.

It’s the exact opposite situation in America: almost half of US teachers graduate in the bottom third of their college class.

Kaisa Hekinen was one of the lucky ones accepted into the University of Helsinki’s teacher education program.

Kaisa Hekinen, Education Student: “From day one they start making you think about the importance of how you are teaching and what it is that you are trying to get it across. It’s not just your subject, it’s also that you are raising future citizens.”

In addition to managing her course load, she practices her craft at a local school, under the watchful eye of an experienced teacher.

Kaisa Hekinen, Education Student: “Definitely from the start, they put you on the spot, and you have to start performing as a teacher.”

South Korea and other high performing nations are known for their well-trained educators too.

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But in Finland, teachers are given far more autonomy. There is a national curriculum here, but it’s just a framework, serving as a guide for each school, instead of a top-down edict.

And because teachers don’t have a standardized test to worry about, they can teach their students however they want.

Kristi Lauker, Professor of Educational Psychology: “It’s like a company, you have a strategy, but you are not watching each employee all the time. So it’s a very autonomous profession.”

Pasi Sahlberg, Educator: “But this autonomy and handing over the responsibility of many things to school would not have been possible if we hadn’t had this academic program for training teachers.

So without good teachers you cannot really do this.”

With all of that responsibility and the respect that comes with it, Finnish educators tend to stay in their profession, compared with the US where the turnover is roughly *seven times* higher.

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But let’s get real for a moment.

What can America learn from a tiny, ethnically homogeneous country that’s home to just five million people.

Salburg agrees that size does matter. But he points out that over 30 American states are similar to Finland in population.

Pasi Sahlberg, Educator: “Colorado, Maryland, or Minnisota, or Massachussets are very close to what Finland could be.”

But an American classroom are likely to be FAR more diverse, featuring many different languages and ethnic origins.

And have a great deal more poverty. Only 4% of Finnish children are poor, while in the US, the rate is over 20%.

Pasi Sahlberg, Educator: “I’ve been in these classrooms in the United States, and whenever I see these huge diversities and poverty.”

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Playing, Fun and Games.
American students have the best international standardized test scores in the world. True or false? “Students in South Korea outperform American students by leaps and bounds.” What does this mean?

Art, Drawing, Painting
Do Finnish students begin school very early, spend lots of time in class and doing homework?

Does Pasi Sahlberg, the education scholar, believe schooling should be a matter of quality over quantity? How does Finland differ from other countries in terms of rote memorization vs. creativity, and testing and exams?

ABCs, 123.
What is the Finnish education’s biggest “secret” for success? Is there lots of competition to enter the teaching profession in Finland? Who applies to educational departments, faculties, programs in Finland? Is teaching a prestigious career in Finland?

PE (Physical Education).
Compare the situation with the US. Compare the careers of Finnish and American teachers.

Reading and Writing.
Finnish teacher training combines theory with classroom practice. Is this right or wrong?

Arithmetic. Is there lots of centralized control or autonomy in Finnish schools?

Describe the demographics of American and Finnish students.
Is your school similar to or different from Finnish schools? Describe your schooling.

Social Studies.
Should other countries adopt the Finnish system?

Classical Literature.
Describe your ideal school. How could you improve school?

Biology, Chemistry, Physics.
Is teaching a prestigious career in your country? What are the most prestigious professions?

Algebra, Trigonometry, Geometry.
Elaborate on the saying, “Those who can, do; those who can’t teach.”

Woodworking, Mechanics Shop.
What might happen in the future?

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