What Local Parents and Teachers Can Learn from Finnish Schools

Sep 5, 2015

Posted in CommentaryEducation/Schools/YouthEqual Rights/Equity

By Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein

We’re kind of stuck in a rut in U.S. schools.   A lot of our kids are not very happy at school. And a lot of U.S. schools opened last week without enough teachers.

Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein

No school system is perfect, but the Finnish system lets us know that things can be different. I interviewed one of the leaders of their system, Pasi Sahlberg, and discovered the following:

Finnish scores on international comparison tests (PISA) are much higher than the U.S. on both mathematics and reading. For example, the U.S. scored 26th in math; Finland has been in the top 10 for the past decade.

All schooling is free in Finland. No one pays for education – even higher education.

Their main focus is on equity. All children get equitable services and care. And there is not a big gap between the academic performance of higher and lower income students.

They want children to be happy and excited about school and to be confident in themselves.  Everyone gets quality, play-based pre-school. They have music and art and sports. They focus on cooperation more than competition

They don’t use standardized testing on the kids all the time: the international comparisons (given once every few years) and one test at the end of high school are the only “standardized” tests they take.

This is interesting, and I just learned about it: They provide the kind of services that we call “special education” to about half the kids in the country, but no one is identified as “special ed.”

They believe that the labeling hurts students, and it shouldn’t be called “special” because most kids get something “special” according to their particular needs.

Teachers are much more highly trained and get responsibility, respect and support.

I have been told that the things they do wouldn’t work here, because we have more diversity. I don’t believe that. What we have is more racism.

I’m sure there is personal racism in Finland, but American structural racism is tightly built into the school system along with the racial wealth gap, because of historic and current U.S. policy.

Nothing’s “perfect.”  And I don’t think any system can be transplanted somewhere else. But happiness, equity, no profit-motive & less standardized testing would sure help our schools.

Has the Finnish system always been like this? No. People struggled for it, and after it had been in place for a few years the PISA test results came out, showing that their more equitable systems did better than school systems, like the U.S., that are oriented toward tests and inequity.

There are now graphs that show through international comparison that school systems with more equity also have more excellence in performance!!

This includes Cuba, some provinces in Canada and others. There is a new book coming out in the spring that shows these comparisons.

You can listen to an interview I did with a leading educator from Finland,Pasi Sahlbergm at  https://kpfa.org/program/education-today/