Finns: Equality works

“We Created a School System Based on Equality,” Finnish education and science minister Krista Kiuru tells The Atlantic.

Finnish children start school at age 7, notes Christine Gross-Loh. “They have more recess, shorter school hours than many U.S. children do (nearly 300 fewer hours per year in elementary school), and the lightest homework load of any industrialized nation.”

Yet over the past decade Finland has consistently performed among the top nations on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a standardized test given to 15-year olds in 65 nations and territories around the world.

Finnish schools “have small class sizes and everyone is put in the same class, but we support struggling students more than others,” says Kiuru.

Students participate in “handcrafts, cooking, creative pursuits, and sports,” she says. “Academics isn’t all kids need.”

We like to think that school is also important for developing a good self-image, a strong sensitivity to other people’s feelings … and understanding it matters to take care of others. 

. . . Teachers have a lot of autonomy. They are highly educated–they all have master’s degrees and becoming a teacher is highly competitive. We believe we have to have highly educated teachers, because then we can trust our teachers and know they are doing good work. They do have to follow the national curriculum, although we do have local curriculums as well. But we think that we’ve been able to create good results due to our national, universal curriculum.

We don’t test our teachers or ask them to prove their knowledge. But it’s true that we do invest in a lot of additional teacher training even after they become teachers.

Students don’t take national exams.

“In Finland we are starting to have some issues … in some suburban schools with more immigrants or higher unemployment,” says Kiuru. “We support those schools by investing more in them.”

At age 16, half of Finnish students choose technical-vocational training and the other half choose an academic track.

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  1. If at 16 students get to “choose” their track, how do they get a 50/50 split?

    • Actually over 50% of Finns choose the vocational track. The vocational training is of a very high quality and is actually more competitive than the academic track. Also, the tracks are flexible, so that students can switch in later years.

  2. There are far fewer people in Finland than there are in New York City – and the population is far more homogeneous. I’m betting that far more of their kids are being raised by two parents too.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      The population of Finland is 5.4 million, similar to the state of Minnesota, except MN is more racial, ethnically, and religiously diverse than Finland. But, let’s point out the tremendous number of Nobel winning scientists who originate in Finland, oh wait, never mind Apples and oranges.

      Perhaps the reason the “Finnish” model works is because it was created by Finns for Finns. Just a thought.

  3. Ann in L.A. says:

    Lenore Skenazy wrote the book on this one:

    Her book is a great read, very detailed but snappy and fun too. She destroys most of the myths keeping parents insane and kids inside. For example: the majority of kids who are hit by cars on their way to school are hit by parents of other kids being driven to school–in other words, if everyone got out of their cars and walked to there, getting to school would be safer.

  4. I’ve been told that Finnish is a fairly simply language to learn to speak and write. English is one of the most difficult.

    • Ted Craig says:

      I don’t know who told you that, but most people consider Finnish a very difficult language to learn. For example, there are 15 noun cases. In fact, there is a theory that the difficulty helps the students rank so high.