Finland – What Can We Learn?

C/O Wikipedia

Finland routinely comes amongst the top countries in PISA tests.

Why is this?

A short answer is “well-trained teachers and responsible children”, but of course there’s a lot more to it than that.

I was lucky enough recently to get some first-hand insights into this question. First stop – University of Helsinki Faculty of Behavioural Sciences, which contains the Department of Teacher Education. In Finland, there are 20 universities – all free to all students, even those from abroad. First surprise – teachers generally need to get a Masters Degree to teach in Finnish schools, making teacher training 5 years long. The profession is highly competitive: more than 40 people may apply for a single job.

Kati Turuula, a Finnish educator and now Microsoft’s Central and Eastern Europe lead, believes that a great deal of Finland’s educational success can be attributed to the fact that prior to entering school, all children will have participated in a preschool program focussing on self-reflection and social behavior. It is interesting to note that one of the most notable attributes of Finnish children is their level of personal responsibility. The early focus on self-reflection is seen as a key component for developing responsibility towards learning.

Other contributing factors include:

  • Finland invests heavily in special needs and does well by its weakest students.
  • Finnish children are good at tests because they get them in school all the time, to help them understand how they are doing
  • Students take the PISA tests seriously, leaving very few questions blank
  • In a country with harsh weather it is understood one has to work hard, so Finnish students pay attention and apply themselves to their learning
  • Ubiquity of learning material: “Almost every family has a newspaper delivered to the home,” “and foreign language programmes are subtitled, not dubbed”

Some things about the Finnish system appear counter-intuitive, eg – no choice; no school inspectors; practically unsackable teachers; very little homework; no classes for the gifted students; little in the way of standardized testing; and no published exam results.

So how much does technology have to do with academic success in Finnish schools?

Technology

Technology doesn’t appear to be a particularly high a priority in Finnish schools. There are plenty of examples of school principles who would say “I don’t need lots of technology to get good results”. Finland is at around the European average and the last of the Nordic countries in terms of educational use of ICT. Some education providers have progressed fast and their schools are leaders in the field in both pedagogical and technical terms.

The City of Oulu, for example, has recognised the value of technology. There the Education Department and their forward thinking principals are exploring ways to fully exploit IT to both improve grades, increase stakeholder satisfaction and develop 21st Century Skills.

The Finnish Government has a National Plan for Educational Use of Information and Communications Technology focusing on the following areas:

  • Learners’ future skills
  • Pedagogical models and practices
  • E-learning materials and applications
  • School infrastructure, learning facilities, purchases and support services
  • Teacher training and pedagogical expertise
  • Operational culture and leadership
  • Business and network co-operation

Whilst academic performace, as measured by PISA, is of course very highly valued in Finland, its interesting to hear Finnish educators talking about the 4Cs – Creativity, Communication, Collaboration and Critical Thinking. The next chapter in the development of Finish education will likely go into areas 21st Century Skills and 4Cs where ICT is a vital component.

Further information –

Lessons from Finland: http://www.openeducation.net/2008/03/10/several-lessons-to-be-learned-from-the-finnish-school-system/

Use of ICT in Finnish Schools: http://yle.fi/uutiset/news/2010/05/computer_classrooms_gathering_dust_1686574.html

Finland School of the Future: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_lW8ihhWBZA

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