What’s the deal with Finland?
Posted by Brainspring on 20th Nov 2014
In last week’s post I mentioned how Finland has a different attitude about teachers than the United States. In case you didn’t have a chance to read the article, I want to share with you some highlights about why Finland has become part of the discussion about education in the US.
Two Major Differences Between Finland and the US
In the 1970’s Finland was ranked near the bottom of the list for education in developed nations. They decided to do something about it and completely overhauled their education system. Now Finland is at the top of the list according to PISA, an international survey of 15 year olds in math, science and reading. Many people in the US and other nations are looking to Finland for ideas about how to improve education in their own country. Here are a couple of highlights of the changes Finland implemented that brought about such a dramatic rise:
1) Investment in Quality Teachers
- Finland invests in their teachers through teacher education and also through valuing teachers as masterful professionals. Teaching programs are highly competitive, only about 15% of applicants are admitted. Those who are admitted get three-years of graduate level preparation that is paid for by the state. The teachers-in-training also receive a living stipend. In their courses an emphasis is placed on how to teach diverse learners as well as how to teach, create curriculum and develop assessments.
- When teachers enter the profession, they are treated as masters of their craft by being given the freedom to work with colleagues to design curriculum and implement the instruction they feel is appropriate: “Professional teachers should have space for innovation…Teachers should not be seen as technicians whose work is to implement strictly directed syllabi, but rather as professionals who know how to improve learning for all.”
- Schools regularly give time for collaboration: “Teachers in Finnish schools meet at least one afternoon a week to jointly plan and develop curriculum…nearly half of teachers’ school time is used to hone practice through school-based curriculum work, collective planning, and cooperation with parents…”
2) More Localized Curriculum and Assessment Development
- In Finland there are no external standardized tests. Teachers develop their own assessments to show how students are progressing towards the benchmarks they set in the curriculum. Most feedback is given to students in a narrative form, not a number: “…the main purpose of assessing students is to guide and encourage students’ own reflection and self-assessment. Teachers give students formative and summative reports both through verbal and narrative feedback…assessment is used to cultivate students’ active learning skills by asking open-ended questions and helping students address them.”
- Schools are given only lean national standards. Since teachers are master craftsmen, it is their responsibility to flesh out the standards and develop curriculum for the school: “Policy makers decided that if they invested in very skillful teachers, they could allow local schools more autonomy to make decisions about what and how to teach.”
As you can probably imagine, with this different approach to education, classrooms in Finland probably look quite different than our own. I want to end with this description of what a classroom in Finland might look like:
“In a Finnish classroom, it is rare to see a teacher standing in front of a classroom lecturing students for 50 minutes. Instead, students are likely to determine their own weekly targets with their teachers in specific subject areas and choose the tasks they will work on at their own pace. In a typical classroom, students are likely to be walking around, rotating through workshops or gathering information, asking questions of their teacher and working with other students in small groups. They may be completing independent or group projects or writing articles for their own magazine. The cultivation of independence and active learning allows students to develop metacognitive skills that help them to frame, tackle and solve problems; evaluate and improve their own work; and guide their learning processes in productive ways.”
Please let me know your thoughts!
Personally I like the sound of Finland’s system. One of the things I wish for is for teachers to have more control over curriculum and implementation. I truly view teaching as an art that is often stifled by constraints that are out of teacher’s control.
If you’re interested, please read the full article. I only scratched the surface here!
How do these aspects of Finland’s education system compare to ours?
What changes would you like to see in our education system?
Do you think a system like Finland has could work in the US?