Tag Archives: Finland

Thanks-vember 14: Seattle

14 Nov

Every morning I try to give myself 10-15 minutes with a cup of coffee and the online news. I usually end up reading a bit of The Seattle Times, a bit of NPR, and a bit of BBC World News. I don’t get a lot of down time, and I cherish this little moment of quiet before my day begins.

This morning, on the Seattle Times front page, I saw an article titled “Finland’s educational success story: Less testing, more trusting.” The article focuses on Pasi Sahlberg, a Finnish Education Minister, and author of the book “Finnish Lessons: what can the world learn from educational change in Finland” (Teachers College Press, 2011).

So, why should we care about Finland? Well, in case you haven’t heard – Finland’s education system has been ranked at the top of the pack since 2000, when the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) was first introduced. Finnish students spend less time in the classroom than Americans, and yet they routinely score better in math, science, language, etc…

Pasi gave a free lecture this evening at The University of Washington, which I and another teacher-student attended. The first thing he said was “I’m not trying to convince you that Finland has the best education system in the world… because we couldn’t care less if we are the best.”

No, what they care about in Finland is providing each student with an education that best fits his or her needs. Pasi said that Finland’s goal is: “We want to have a school system where pupil’s success doesn’t depend on their home background.” That is, students can succeed regardless of their socioeconomic status. Remember, many studies have been done in the US “proving” that socioeconomic status is the number one indicator of a child’s ability to succeed in school. Finland threw that idea out the window.

The idea of the lecture was not to say “Finland is better than you” or “Here is how to make the US’s education system exactly like Finland’s,” but instead to point out some key differences, and perhaps how the US can improve education based on Finland’s ideas.

I would say that Pasi’s message was broken into two main points: equity and professionalism.

40 years ago, the Finnish government looked at their country, and at their education system, and knew that something needed to be fixed. They worked on creating equal footing for all students – on improving equity (the well-being of students, providing resources to those in need, etc…) and then worked on improving education. Students who aren’t fed breakfast can’t learn. Students who have to stay home to take care of their younger siblings can’t learn. These things needed to be fixed before the actual problem of school could be tackled.

Additionally, teachers are respected in Finland, on the same level as doctors and lawyers. In fact, it takes as much schooling to become a Finnish primary teacher as it does to become a lawyer or doctor. All teachers must have Master’s degrees, which usually takes about 6 years to obtain. The programs are not easy to get into – the University of Helsinki received about 2,000 applications last year and admitted 120 people to the program. Once these highly qualified teachers are in the classroom, they are given control over what they teach – there are no standardized tests, and loose curriculum standards that must be met.

Pasi shared a video with us, contrasting the high-pressure schools of South Korea (another top-scoring country) and the schools of Finland. I couldn’t find the South Korea part to share with you, but here is the section on Finland:

The lecture was recorded, and will be put up as a podcast on the UW Finnish Studies Webpage. I’ll post a link to it when it’s up.

What does this have to do with being thankful? I am thankful for the opportunity to attend events like this. I’m thankful to live in a city with a highly respected university which attracts speakers from all over the world. I’m thankful for the opportunity to hear about education systems in other countries. I’m also thankful for the opportunity to connect with my fellow teachers and discuss these new ideas.

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