Finland’s Education System Leads Globally

Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed (right) meets with Li Andersson, Minister of Education of Finland. 18 July 2019. Credit: United Nations, New York
  • by Lakshi De Vass Gunawardena (united nations)
  • Monday, July 22, 2019
  • Inter Press Service

"In education, Finland has the lead according to many international comparisons," Li Andersson, the newly appointed Minister of Education for Finland, said at a briefing at the Finnish consulate in New York on July 19.

Most recently, she pointed out, the London-based Economist ranked Finland as number one in delivering future-oriented skills through education.

"Thereby, Finland is best equipped to adapt education system to deliver skills for problem-solving and collaboration, as well as foster creativity, civic-awareness and participation," she added.

The briefing was hosted by the Consulate General of Finland, with a guest speaker from Columbia University.

Andersson said investment in education is key to all of the successes "we have seen in Finnish society, so it is key for social cohesion, it is key for equality, and it is key for building economic progress and for economic growth."

"The Finnish education system is one of the top performing education systems in the world," she declared

Finland has been ranked as one of the happiest and successful countries in the world, and most recently having been ranked as the number one country for higher education by The Economist.

And in terms of data, in results released by the Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA), a test taken by pupils across the globe, Finland scored 550 points higher than any of their counterparts, including Sweden, Norway and the US, among others.

When asked whether the size of small schools that are abundant in Finland have anything to do with Finland's success, Dr. Samuel Abrams, Director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at the Teachers College, Columbia University, told IPS: "I would not focus on the size of schools. That is not, as I said, a Finnish innovation".

He said there has been a robust movement for small schools in the United States for a long time with many fine examples of excellent small public schools across the country.

"I merely brought up small schools as a part of the recipe for excellent schooling in Finland that may be threatened by financial pressure, generated in part by pension obligations".

Because the pension obligations in an aging country like Finland are substantial, he said, budget cuts must be found. "Some of those budget cuts mean merging schools to achieve economies of scale."

However, in terms of what other countries, such as the United States should learn from Finland, he had this to say: "We should follow Finland in testing only small samples of students rather than testing all students".

"Our approach forces teachers to teach to the test. As we test all students in reading and math in grades 3-8, we generate undue stress for students, teachers, and parents alike".

Moreover, he pointed out, "in focusing on reading and math, we crowd out time for history, science, music, art, crafts, and physical education. And students need those subjects as well as plenty of play for a well-rounded education."

"Second, we should follow Finland in preparing teachers with high-quality master's programs in pedagogical theory and practice.

Third, we should follow Finland in paying teachers well and giving them significant autonomy," he added.

"Finally, we should follow Finland in funding our schools fairly. That means more money per student at schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods, not less. We base funding on property taxes, which means wealthy districts have significantly more money to spend per pupil than poor districts".

None of this is rocket science. But that does not make it easy.

"We must follow in Finland's path in altering the way we think about children and their future. This requires, one, thinking about child development through the eyes of the child, which means a well-rounded curriculum; two, reconceiving our social contract to ensure a high-quality education for all children; and three, esteeming teachers as pillars of the community." Dr. Abrams concluded.

With that said, the education system in Finland has much room for improvement. "We see growing disparities in the learning results." Andersson said, in terms of learning results.

"There is a difference between boys and girls and also some growing regional differences, and also a stronger difference where the pupils home background will affect the learning results more than before."

"Inequality hampers growth and otherwise," she added.

To combat these worrisome findings, Andersson and the Finnish government have set three main priorities to be tackled in the coming years.

"The first of these priorities is raising the educational level of the whole population." Andersson said.

"We are also seeing a tendency where we are seeing the growing level of education has actually stopped." She went on to cite that the generation of the 1970's, and in Finland it is the current generation that has the highest level of education.

"The second priority of the government is reducing inequality gaps in education referring to what I said about earlier about the worrisome trends, and the third priority is focusing on continuous education.... learning should be something that we do all the time, and we should have the possibility to engage in all the time, no matter whether if we are working or outside working life or studying."

For raising the level of education, Andersson plans on ensuring that all students have a degree on the upper secondary level and plans on raising the amounts of adults on the third educational level (post-secondary education) to 50% by 2030.

In order to implement this, Andersson intends on devising a Road Map, and a document that will reach Parliament.

She also highlighted the importance of addressing the equality gaps and strengthening the whole Finnish education system, from early childhood education to primary school.

She also intends on raising the compulsory education age to 18 years old. "16% of the overt generations in Finland are without a degree on the secondary level." She noted.

"We know that the employment rate of people with only primary education backgrounds is around 40% at the moment, and that has been going down all the time."

She cited the changing labor market, and how that calls for a change in the education system.

In terms of closing education gaps, Andersson cited a significant focus on early childhood development, as that is key.

Such actions to help assist this goal is to reduce group sizes for children over 3 years old and ensuring that every child has the right to at least 40 hours a week to early childhood education and care "no matter if their parents are working or unemployed."

Andersson is also piloting a two- year preschool to see how it will affect participation rates in early childhood care, as well as to observe the effects it will have on learning results in primary education.

Furthermore, Andersson plans on providing support for maternity and childhood clinics.

For continuing education and the future of work, Andersson is unsure, as the labor market is drastically changing but noted that "It is clear that the knowledge requirement will grow."

"Education is the best tool we have, and we should think of it as an investment not an expenditure." She concluded.

She added that students should "just focus on things you're motivated about, not too get too stressed, I think it is a shame there is a lot of pressure on the students now, with their stress with finances etc."

But she offered encouragement and stated that students should "not think too much about what government is saying about how fast you should study and finally, "use the possibilities you have at the university"

© Inter Press Service (2019) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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