Contributing Author Azriel Linder, ’20
American high school students are stressed and exhausted. They sit in classes for the majority of their day, and hours of homework take up much of the rest. Tests are frequent and often based solely on memorization. There is little time for sleep, let alone leisure and fun. Even with all this hard work, the United States only ranks 31st out of 70 countries on the Program for International Student Assessment.
Finland’s education system, however, shows that more homework and constant testing is not what provides a good education. Instead, well educated teachers and an investment in public education leads to the success which is evident in the country’s high ranking on the same test—8th.
Jenny Anderson, a writer for The New York Times, explains that Finland’s school system has “the same number of teachers as New York City’s but far fewer students, 600,000 compared with New York’s 1.1 million.” The greater number of teachers along with their experience and qualifications is what makes Finland’s education system special.
Paul Sahlberg, a Finnish educator and author, tells of the monumental decision by Finland’s government in the 1970’s to “require all teachers to have master’s degrees—and to pay for their acquisition.” Finnish teachers are required to spend an extensive amount of time furthering their own education and even continue it into their careers. Sahlberg explains that Finnish teachers are paid “to spend two hours a week on professional development” on top of their time in the classroom. The time and money dedicated to the education of teachers makes them extremely qualified for their jobs, resulting in better student engagement and performance.
The Finnish system does not revolve around competition which allows students to better concentrate on taking in the information presented to them. LynNell Hancock, a writer for Smithsonian Magazine, notes how there are no required standardized tests in Finland besides one exam during the senior year of high school. Without the stress of standardized testing, students are better able to retain information and apply it to their own lives instead of just memorizing for a test.
One of the most important parts of Finland’s system is that it is based on equality, giving every student the same opportunities regardless of their background or ability. Hancock writes that every school is required to have the same goals and hire from the same group of trained teachers. She said, “The result is that a Finnish child has a good shot at getting the same quality education no matter whether he or she lives in a rural village or a university town.” This process ensures that nobody is left behind, and that everyone can acquire the help they need to succeed.
It is important that Finnish private and public schools have equal resources and requirements. In their brochure “Finnish Education in a Nutshell,” the Finnish National Agency for Education emphasizes equality between public and private schools stating, “They follow the same national core curricula and qualification education system based on trust and responsibility. [They both] also receive public funding.”
Finland’s schools were not always this way. Because Finland was still recovering from Soviet influence until the 1960s, Hancock says that most students left public schools after six years and received their education in an alternative way. “Only the privileged and wealthy got a good education.”
According to Hancock, in 1963 the Finnish parliament made the decision to use public education as a means of economic recovery. They reorganized the public school system into “one system of comprehensive schools for ages 7 through 16. As these comprehensive schools improved, so did the upper secondary schools, grades 10 through 12.” This new system allowed for a redesigned curriculum with “guidelines, not prescriptions,” written with contributions from teachers around the nation.
Finland proves that monumental change is possible. The success of their students scores—placing in the top 11 percent of the world—shows policy and change is what makes extensive growth possible.