Can’t import the “Finnish approach” – cultural roots

A ‘guest post’ via Jerry Becker:

” Received from Stefan Turnau, Sunday, January 2, 2011 in response to the posting on “Shanghai Schools’ Approach Pushes Students to Top of Tests” on January 1st, 2011. You might want to take a look at where what follows can be found plus a great deal more, due to Nigel Bispham who is a deputy head teacher from Cornwall who visits Finland to discover why the country scored so well on the international OECD PISA assessments.”

I’m afraid the “Finnish approach” can’t be exported wholesale to any other cultural context.
A by no means exhaustive list of aspects that make the Finnish approach work (in my short experience as a Brit who’s lived here in Helsinki for 7 years and has a daughter in primary education at the moment):
1. Finns have a deep and lasting respect for the teaching profession and education in general, people aspire to be teachers!
2. Parents respect the job teachers do and let them do it (they are not well paid but they enjoy high status). The government lets teachers get on with teaching,
3. Parents are reminded several times a year to come into the school anytime to observe lessons or any other part of the school day.
4. Teachers at all levels hold master’s degree qualifications in pedagogy and are left to get on with it without too many restrictions.
5. All facilities are in good repair and teaching aids are plentiful (with little damage from arson and vandalism because kids are generally protective of their schools and use the playground areas after school).
6. Active after school clubs from everything from art to athletics etc.
7. Short and sweet school days (e.g. 8-9 year olds 9 till 1/2pm).
8. Small class sizes (20-25).
9. Many kids have an early sense of self reliance from looking after themselves in the afternoons.
10. Kids here also get to roam free, expend a lot of energy, climb trees and skin their knees.
11. And so on….. 

I think I can sum it up by relating a somewhat minor bugbear I do have with the Finnish Ed System and it is that my daughter’s favourite expression is “Teacher says….xyz!” to put her parents right!

I think if you ask any Finnish school kid who the 10-15 most important people are in their lives, there is a good chance that their teacher will figure in there for many? How about in the UK, top 100?

I think the things that CAN be imported are ideas that allow a refocusing away from testing and performance by giving teachers more autonomy, a focus on quality rather then quantity of teaching, higher level academic teacher training qualifications, improving the status of teaching as a profession.
I’m afraid the “Chinese approach”, very different but equally successful, cannot be imported for the same reason.

Sound Familiar? A Complaint About Excessive Testing in Detroit

Excerpts from a letter from a Detroit Public Schools Federation of Teachers Official:


Dear Dr. Byrd-Bennett:
We are getting a lot of feedback from teachers concerning the overwhelming  amount of testing and progress monitoring they are required to do. While  each of the assessments may have merit, taken as a whole they leave too
little time for instruction. Teachers throughout the district are asking  “When do we have time to teach?”
In addition to the regular curriculum, students are assessed using the Star  Math and Star Reading programs. They work on individualized lessons and  assessments through Accelerated Math and Accelerated Reading. Three times
per year students take a battery of benchmark assessments including up to  five Dibels assessments, Burst, and TRC. Throw in quarterly Q tests that  take two class periods per day for four days each quarter, and two to three
weeks of MEAP testing, and it’s no wonder teachers want more time to teach.

In between benchmarks, teachers are asked to print up to 80 pages of Burst  lessons every two weeks. These lessons are to be taught to the lowest  achieving four to five students in each class for a half hour per day. Some  schools don’t have enough toner to print these lessons, others don’t have  enough copiers, and nobody seems to have enough time. One teacher estimates  that a quarter of her instructional time is devoted to these assessments and
progress monitoring.
On a weekly basis, teachers also are asked to do time-consuming progress  monitoring for Dibels and TRC. Much if this work is done with one student at  a time. While our teachers are doing their best to keep the rest of the  class doing meaningful work, it is not possible to properly monitor and  coach the others while you are testing  individuals.
Two common themes emerge from discussions with teachers throughout the  district. First, these assessments all have some merit individually, but  together, they are too much. Second, we as teachers can handle all this, but  our students are suffering.
One teacher told me that for one day, she ignored Burst, Dibels, TRC,  Accelerated Math and Reading, and all she did was teach. It was the best day  the class had all year! The saddest thing is, this didn’t happen until the  third week of October, and she had to ignore directives to make it happen at  all.


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