Finnish paradoxes

1. Teach less, learn more

… THE WSJ reported that Finnish students rarely get more than a half-hour of homework per day. .. Finnish 15-year-old students don’t take private tutoring or additional lessons other than what is offered by their school… In Korea, Japan, Singapore, and Shanghai, China, jurisdictions that are on par with Finland in reading, mathematics and science, most children spend hours and hours after their regular school days and on their weekends and holidays in private classes and test preparation schools.

2. Test less, learn more

… A student’s report card is always a collective professional judgement by her or his teachers. It is up to the school to decide the criteria for this evaluation based on the national student assessment guidelines. This means that report cards issued by different schools are not necessarily fully comparable because they are not based on standardized and objective measures… Regular national assessments are carried out using sample-based methodology that includes about 10% of the age cohort…Schools not included in these samples may purchase one or more of these tests from the National Board of Education to benchmark their performance to that of other schools. About one fifth of all students of the grade cohort take part in this voluntary assessment… In an equal-size state or province in North America, for example, in Massachusetts or Alberta, a student testing budget can be 10 times higher than this.

3. More Equity through growing diversity

… In comprehensive schools in Helsinki, the proportion of immigrant children is approaching 10%, and languages spoken in these schools number 40. This trend is evident in all major cities in Finland.

… according to this same study, in the proportion of immigrant students per class there seems to be a threshold after which learning achievement of all students in that class begins to decline. That proportion of immigrant pupils in Helsinki when notable affects of diversity on student achievement are observable is about 20%.


Teacher’s role

… teaching is consistently rated as one of the most admired professions, ahead of medical doctors, architects, and lawyers, typically thought to be dream professions… Finnish males viewed a teacher as the most desirable spouse, rated just ahead of a nurse, medical doctor, or architect. Women, in turn, identified only a medical doctor and a veterinarian ahead of a teacher as a desirable professions for their ideal spouse.

… Interestingly, practically nobody cites salary as a reason for leaving teaching. Instead, many point out that if they were to lose their professional autonomy in schools and their classrooms, their career choice would be called into question. For example, if an outside inspector were to judge the quality of their work on a merit-based compensation policy influenced by external measures were imposed, many would change their jobs.

… Third, the salary level is not the main motive to become a teacher in Finland. Teachers earn slightly more than the national average salary.


Teachers as researchers

In Finland it took more than 20 years to build common understanding among teacher educators, university professors, and practitioners about the complexity of the teaching profession. Research based teacher education has the following three key principles:

– Teachers need a deep knowledge of the most recent advances of research in the subjects they teach. In addition, they need to be familiar with the research on how something can be taught and learned.

– Teachers must adopt a research-orientated attitude toward their work. This means learning to take an analytical and open-minded approach to their work, drawing conclusions for the development of education based on different sources of evidence coming from the recent research as well as their own critical and professional observations and experiences.

– Teacher education in itself should also be an object of study and research.


Global Education Reform Movement vs. The Finnish Way

Standardizing teaching and learning vs. Customizing teaching and learning

Focus on literacy and numeracy vs. Focus on creative learning

Teaching prescribed curriculum vs. Encouraging risk taking

Borrowing market-oriented reform ideas vs. Learning from the past and owning innovations

Test-based accountability and control vs. Shared responsibility and trust