Thirty years ago Finland’s education system was quite mediocre and very inequitable. In short, it was a mess. Sound familiar?  Today, Finland’s education system is a stunning success.  I know I’ve argued time and time again Finland’s success is irrelevant to us because we’re so different than Finland, but after looking more carefully I think there are some things we can learn from Finland’s education reform and apply to our education system.

The thing that made me think the reforms Finland made to its education system wouldn’t work here where I teach is because Finland’s population  is so different from ours. Finland’s population is  a homogeneous one while our population here in the Greater Toronto Area isn’t.  Five percent of  Finland’s population is foreign born while here  in the Toronto area  50% of the population is foreign born. Half of the immigrants in  Toronto have lived here less than 15 years.  Our schools are mosaics of 140 different languages and dialects- talk about heterogeneous  Finland has a low poverty rate of 5%.  Thirty percent of families live at the poverty rate here in Toronto. Poverty affects kids.  There is  an inequality in  educational outcomes for kids  who live in  poverty, the greater  the prevalence of poverty in Toronto , the greater the number of kids won’t be able  to  do as well as they might.  We are not going to be able to help poor kids improve their performance in school by teaching to the standardized tests.

Let me just say here  I discovered the definition of poverty is a bit more complex than I thought.     This link does a excellent job of defining poverty  in terms of absolute poverty (inability to meet basic needs) and relative poverty(distance from community norms). This other site  goes into more depth about absolute and relative poverty.  I’ve included the link in case you’re curious about the topic of poverty. You just never know!

OK, back to Finland.  What can we take from Finland’s education system to improve our education system?  Finland  instituted a number of educational reforms in the 1970’s that turned the education system around and made it the success it is in 2012. Finland’s reforms in education are based on the belief education is a tool to equalize members of society. There shouldn’t be extreme the gaps between rich and poor, that 1 percent  we read about who is ultra rich and powerful.  In Finland for the sake of equity, all students are offered free school meals as well as easy access to health care, psychological and individualized counseling . Kids don’t start school until they’re seven and spend the first 6 years of school  getting  ready to learn and find their passion. Homework is discouraged. There are no mandatory standardized tests, although at the end of upper-secondary school (American high school) students can voluntarily take the National Matriculation Exam.  Students receive report cards at the end of the semester and student assessments are based on individualized teacher created evaluations-quizzes, tests, assignments etc. 95 percent of students go on to vocational or academic schools. In other words, 95% of kids graduate.  We should do as well!

Teachers are well respected in Finland and are given much prestige as well as responsibility.  Surprisingly, it’s more difficult to get into teacher training programs than into law or medicine. Since 1970 all teachers in Finland must have a master’s degree which is paid for by the state (I can only wish the state would pay for mine. I’ve been spending $$$ to get my MEd. Thankfully, it won’t be much longer ($$$) until I’m finished.) In Finland, cooperation not competition amongst teachers and schools is encouraged.  There are no private schools in Finland. It’s the principal’s responsibility in Finland to deal with teacher’s who are not living up to their responsibilities.

I’m not sure how many of the reforms Finland implemented we could apply to our schools.  We certainly need to do something different though. The education system is failing our kid’s, especially our kids who live in poverty.

Which reforms would you want to see implemented?  Which of these reforms do you think we could implement?

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One Response to “We can learn from Finland’s school success despite the differences in our cultures”

  1. Finland at the Finnish? « My Thoughts, My Voice. on April 7th, 2012 4:46 pm

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