More on Schools in Finland

From a post to EDDRA2, written by ‘tdial’:


I don’t know much about schools in Singapore or South Korea, but I happen to know a little something about Finland. In Finland, EVERYTHING about the public school system is different. Well, maybe not literally everything, but a long enough list of things that it’s silly to pick just one and attribute their success to it.

Finland is able to recruit high academic achievers as teachers because teaching at the primary or secondary level is a high-prestige profession there. They have double-digit numbers of applicants for every teaching job that opens up. There is a kind of “virtuous cycle” (if you will) in which the high prestige of the profession attracts high-quality applicants, and the high quality of the successful applicants makes it prestigious. (One wonders how we could get to that place from where we are now.)

Finland has standardized tests, but it does not use the scores as comparative measures of teacher or school quality.

Finland has less poverty than the U.S. Homelessness, chronic hunger, and total lack of access to medical care are virtually nonexistent there, because the economic safety net and the health care system do not let those things happen.

In Finland, EVERY student gets a free hot lunch at school every day. Thus they avoid any possible stigma that might attach to a means-tested free/reduced lunch program, as well as any problems associated with unreliable funding or poor management of such a program.

The quality of schools in Finland is far more uniform than here. Finland doesn’t have world-class, state-of-the-art schools in some communities and dysfunctional, hard-to-staff schools in others. This is largely because funding, educational policy, and teacher training are uniform nationwide.

In Finland, overall educational policy and standards are set at the national level and the day-to-day operation of each school is governed at the local level, with participation by all kinds of stakeholders.

In Finland, the teachers union and national policy makers work as partners to develop effective education policies and programs. The government doesn’t alternate between demonizing the union when one party is in power and sorta-kinda working with it, but not too openly for fear of criticism from “reformers,” when the other party is in.

There are many other differences, of course. We may be able to learn some useful lessons from Finland, Singapore, South Korea, etc., but cross-national comparisons are always, inevitably, apples-and-oranges in some respects.

Published in: on October 1, 2010 at 12:37 am  Comments (8)  

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Comparing the success of teachers in the two countries is not apples to apples, given the different contexts. But all the above concepts are not that foreign to Americans, and they are all things within our power to change. We could eliminate poverty too, if we wanted to.


  2. Uniformity seems to be an important factor in countries with high-performing schools – including Singapore ( But uniformity is much easier when a country is small. Finland is about the size of Montana.


  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mike Klonsky and Rita Solnet, Joe Bower. Joe Bower said: More on Schools in Finland – More on Schools in Finland […]


  4. While reading another teacher’s blog I found a statement that Finland requires three years of what they call Masters level education for all teachers, followed by a two year apprenticeship in a classroom.

    In other words, Finland treats teaching as a respected profession that requires serious training.
    What a concept. Perhaps that’s something we could try here in the U.S. after the hysteria over the current test, test, test and teachers’ union-bashing exhaust themselves.


  5. Of Finland’s 5.3 million people, 99% are either Finnish or Finnish-Swedes (because they speak Swedish), making it one of the most homogeneous industrialized nations in the world.

    Also, they are very proud to have been ranked 4th in a 2007 UNICEF metric that looked at child welfare (family, education, health, behavior, happiness) in 21 wealthy European and North American nations. The U.S. finished 20th out of 21.

    They should be our model here in DC. They’re just like we are.


    • Oh, gosh, you be perfekly koorek en raaht!
      Plus, them Finish folks speak some furrin’ languitch! I plum fergot! We cain’t lern nuthin’ from dem folks! Nope, nohow, noway! Voutchers n charters n Meeshelle Ree all da way!

      (Does one detect a tiny note of sarcasm?)


    • Just for the record, 21% of Finnish children live in poverty. Link. That is not an insignificant number.

      Certainly the homogeneity of a Scandinavian culture like Finland is not going to present their country with the same challenges that we have. At the same time, a few decades ago, their educational system was terrible, and they manage to make incredible changes.

      Just because our population isn’t exactly the same, why would you assume that progressive strategies that worked their would be ineffective here?

      Why would you assume that strategies like Rhee’s, which haven’t been tested or proven anywhere, would be a better place to start our own reform efforts than by looking at what has worked elsewhere and using that as a starting place instead?


      • All excellent questions!


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