31 August 2011

Thoughts on Education-How Finland Does It

Posted by Dan Satterfield

University of Tampere in Finland

Guest post by

by Dr. John O. Annexstad
(Retired  professor and a lover of “the ice” (21 visits to Antarctica).

A recent article by Eggers in the Bemidji Pioneer stated that our
schools need to abandon the grading system. The reason he gives is
that all students are capable of learning, and assigning grades tends
to impede the progress of many. In today’s article I will examine
this idea from the direction of the schools in Finland and next time,
what we find in America because of grade inflation in the education
departments of U.S. universities.
Finland has an educational system that differs significantly from
that in the U.S. and is very successful. In a standardized test given
to 40 global venues of 15-year-olds in the year 2000, Finnish youth
finished as the best readers in the world. In 2009, it came in second
in science, third in reading and sixth in math among 500,000 students
Finnish schools are successful because they do not just measure
statistics. For example:
• They have no mandated standardized tests except for one exam at
the end of a student’s senior year in high school.
• They have no rankings or competition between students, schools
or regions.
• All schools are publicly funded.
• The people running the schools are all educators, not business
people, military leaders or career politicians.
• Every school has the same national goals and uses graduates from
the same pool of university-trained educators.
• All children experience the same quality education, whether they
live in a rural or city environment.
These points show a startling result in educational success among
Finnish students. Ninety-three percent of Finns graduate from
academic or vocational schools. Sixty-six percent go on to higher
education, and this happens even though the Finns spend 30 percent
less per student than the U.S.
Finland’s Minister of Education notes that “We prepare children to
learn how to learn, not to take a test.” In fact, the minister went
on to say that “We are not much interested in the worldwide test and
rankings, because that is not what we are about.”
Some of the guidelines for teachers and students in Finland are as
• Compulsory schooling does not begin until age 7. “Children learn
better when they are ready,” says a school principal. “So why
stress them out?”
• Schools provide food, medical care, counseling and taxi service,
if needed.
• Teachers spend fewer hours at school and less time in the
classrooms than American teachers. The extra time available is used
by teachers to build curricula and to assess their students.
These and other guidelines for education were established by the
government, which realized early on that public education was the key
to economic recovery after World War II. Hence, teachers contributed
to curriculum guidelines and all shared equally in resources. In
1979, every teacher was required to obtain a master’s degree in
theory and practice at state expense. The eventual result was that
accountability and inspection became the purview of the teachers and
The comments made here have been taken from an article in Smithsonian
Magazine, Sept. 2011, by Lynnell Hancock. The lead comment to this
article states that Finland rates an A plus, because the success of
their system is off the charts. However it has only been in the last
decade or so that the schools’ international test cores have risen.
The educators are constantly improving the ways that students are
taught. In the words of one principal, “We are always looking for
ways to improve.”
Next time we will examine how the U.S. educational system has
resulted in low standards for teachers through grade inflation at