Schools in Finland are astounding the world with their consistently high test scores and absolutely everybody interested in education is interested in Finland. It hasn’t always been like this, in the 1980s the Finnish government was so worried about their educational system that they completely revamped it. So, exactly how have they achieved this volte face?
The easiest way to answer this question is to first look at what the Finns haven’t done.
To begin with, they haven’t created a two-tier educational system, i.e. there are very few private schools in Finland. Most Finnish children attend state schools. Neither have they set up a rigid system of standardized testing. In Finland there is only one state exam which pupils take at the end of secondary school. All other tests and measures are designed by individual teachers in individual classrooms with their own individual pupils in mind.
The Finns don’t stream their children. They don’t separate the smart children from the less academically able children in their schools. They don’t force their children to learn by rote and they don’t ‘hot-house’ their pupils.
The answer to how the Finns have attained their academic excellence is a lesson itself in both education theory and irony.
Since the 1980s, every effort has been made to ensure that all Finnish children have exactly the same opportunity to learn, regardless of family background, income, or geographic location. Finland offers all pupils free school meals, easy access to health care, psychological counseling, and individualized student guidance.
The truth is that the Finns weren’t trying to attain academic excellence when they revamped their system. They were trying to care for their children. So when Finland’s students scored very high on the first PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) survey in 2001, the Finns thought there had been a mistake. But subsequent PISA tests confirmed the results. It seems that Finland – unlike, say, very similar countries such as Norway – was actually producing academic excellence as a side-effect of its focus on equity.
Because it turns out children learn more and achieve better academically when they are happy, healthy, well-fed, safe, secure and accepted. Imagine that ... .
Patricia “Trisha” Rainsford lives in Ireland and used to be a Classics teacher (amongst other things) before she became a full-time writer. She has published two novels, The Knack of Life and A Secret Place. Trisha also co-authored four other novels, which were also published, as well as having written countless other things including a TV series that was in development for a while but then cancelled (c'est la vie). Still writing today, a lot of her work is focused on the generation and application of knowledge for human development. Read more from Trisha on her blog, Creating Reciprocity.
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