Finland: Is it trust or teacher training?

Finland Phenomenon coverWhy do Finnish students ace international tests? The Finland Phenomenon: Inside the World’s Most Surprising School System,   a 60-minute movie by Robert Compton (Two Million Minutes) and Harvard researcher Tony Wagner (The Global Achievement Gap), credits a “culture of trust” created by the absence of high-stakes testing, teacher-evaluation systems or homework.

Very smart, very well-trained teachers are the real secret, argues Gadfly’s Daniela Fairchild.

What is most interesting about the film, though, is its depiction of Finland’s rigorous, intense, and competitive teacher-training programs—a more probable explanation for the nation’s academic strength. These programs accept a mere 10 percent of applicants (akin to Ivy League acceptance rates in the U.S.)—and kick out teacher trainees who aren’t up to snuff. Candidates observe veteran teachers, co-design and execute lesson plans, and receive feedback from peers, mentors, and even students.

Finland tracks students in 10th grade: Half go to academic high schools and the rest go to vocational schools.

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Comments

  1. Hysterical. Like, maybe, the students have something to do with it? Just maybe? Around the edges?

  2. Sandra Stotsky says:

    I’m glad to see that Joanne Jacobs has mentioned that part of Finland’s success in educating the majority of its student through high school is that it gives students completing grade 9 a choice. It doesn’t track, and implying that it does kills this important component from consideration by the Obama adiministration and others in this country. Finland offers students a choice, and what guides student choice is their own interest, their past grades, and their own ambition and talents. About 40-50% choose a 3-year vocational high school and after completing a vocational program go into the workforce and get paid for what they do. Skilled craftsmen/tradesmen are highly valued in Finland. We refuse to give most of our students that choice. While about 50% choose to go to the 3-year academic high schools, the actual percentage of those who are given a place at a university and graduate with a BA degree is less than 17% of the grade 9 cohort. Higher education is free in Finland, but the student has to have top scores on more than a matriculation test to get a place at a Finnish university and a free education there. Sandra Stotsky

  3. We refuse to give most of our students that choice.

    We did give them that choice, back in the 80s. The schools were accused of racism when students didn’t make the choice in racially proportionate numbers. Should we give them the choice, that would happen again–and that’s why we don’t give them the choice.

  4. “Hysterical. Like, maybe, the students have something to do with it? Just maybe? Around the edges?”

    Probably. Don’t some other high performing countries do the exact opposite of Finland? Lots of testing.

  5. Belinda Gomez says:

    Of course, as Finland accepts more immigrants, this is all going to change.

  6. North of 49th says:

    Of course, as Finland accepts more immigrants, this is all going to change

    Increased immigration will require change. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that achievement will decline significantly. My district has a very high percentage of immigrants, but our immigrant students (collectively) do as well as, or better than, our native-born students. Our immigrant students,including first generation kids — those born here of recent immigrant parents– have a higher rate of university attendance and completion of tertiary degrees than native-born students.

    Of course we still have plenty of room to improve, most glaringly in the area of aboriginal education, but Canadian students [the ones tested are generally from Alberta, BC or Ontario] tend to perform close to the level of the Finns. Some similarities:
    – Canada, like FInland, has a highly-educated teacher workforce and competition for jobs is intense
    – social supports for low-income families (medical care, subsidized housing, community services) are less comprehensive than in FInland but do help level the playing field and narrow the gap between the middle-class and the poor
    – inclusive schools with emphasis on providing academic supports to kids in class, rather than in special programs
    – no tracking until secondary school
    – very little standardized testing
    – commitment to small classes in the early grades in some areas (my district tries to keep K-3 classes at under 20)

    Some features of the Finnish system I would like to see more of:
    – emphasis on outdoor activities and physical education, play etc. Those Finnish kids, even in preschool, bundle up in snowsuits and go outside in -30C weather! Not us wimpy Canadians.
    – team-teaching in the elementary grades (many FInnish classrooms have THREE teachers per class! No wonder inclusion works for them)
    – increased autonomy for teachers to select the methods and materials appropriate to their students, with accountability for outcomes more than for process
    – elementary teacher staying with the same class for several years
    – a later start to formal schooling (Finnish first graders are 7)
    – less homework and more emphasis on creative arts and hobbies etc. after school; the value of elementary school homework is vastly overrated and empirical studies do not show consistent benefits

    I don’t see why the FInns cannot be successful with increased immigration. It will present challenges, but achievable ones if our experience is anything to go by. I suspect their commitment to equity and success for every student will go a long way towards making their initiatives successful.

  7. Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:

    Whether a country is as successful as it was after experiencing an influx of immigrants depends, of course, on the immigrants, doesn’t it?

    This, naturally, would suggest that there are valuable immigrant groups and not-so-valuable immigrant groups. Generalizations, to be sure, but generalizations with real-world consequences.

    Saying something like that might be a no-no.

  8. Here’s another way in which Finland is different from most Western nations: Compulsory schooling begins at seven, and is compulsory for just nine years.

  9. Ms. Jacobs misinterprets Daniela Fairchild’s review of my documentary, The Finland Phenomenon, and Ms. Fairchild regrettably distorts my film.

    Ms. Fairchild states, “What is most interesting about the film, though, is its depiction of Finland’s rigorous, intense, and competitive teacher-training programs—a more probable explanation for the nation’s academic strength. “

    I devote fully one-third of my film – 18 minutes – to demonstrating that teacher training is the primary explanation for Finland’s educational success. It is the largest section of my film.

    I allocate 15 minutes to conversations with Finnish students and 14 minutes on some very unique school programs including digital portfolios, vocational education and entrepreneurship training. The section on trust is 11 minutes.

    Moreover, I end the section on trust with an interview with Timo Lankinen, Director General of Finland’s National Board of Education, where he states, “why we can have trust is that we have trained our teachers so well.”

    Dr. Tony Wagner, my on camera narrator adds, “There is no doubt in my mind that trust with professionalism can get better results…than a compliance system.”

    When Ms. Jacobs asks “Is it Trust or Teacher Training?” – the answer is “yes.” Trust cannot exist without superior training and well-trained teachers will not stay in a system that mistrusts them.

    Bob Compton
    Executive Producer
    Two Million Minutes and The Finland Phenomenon