They start school later, take a three-month summer break, have shorter school days, do little homework, and take few tests. Their teachers are well educated, highly respected, seldom evaluated, belong to a strong union, and take home average salaries. Their schools are allowed considerable autonomy and are encouraged to be innovative. They all go to public schools.
Yet by any measurement, Finland’s students are some of the best educated in the world. In an interview with CBC’s Michael Enright on “Why Finland’s public schools are so successful”, Pasi Sahlberg (Director General of the Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation) talked about the world’s most successful school system. The 30-minute interview is well worth listening to for insights like these:
On why children start school at 7 instead of 5 or 6:
Probably most parents in Finland, they really value the role of play in children’s development….The children’s job is play. I personally, I think that if anybody wants to be good in play, which means that you understand you that have a mind, you have an imagination, you have a power you can use through these things, you have to have also time to practice these things.
On the purpose of education:
We still have a strong philosophical foundation…to see schools as places where the overall goal for education or going to school or working in a school would be to find happiness and enhance well being of children.
On equity in education:
The Finnish education system is one of the most equitable or equal still in the world, if you look at the international comparisons, and that’s a very, very important thing. In my book, when I describe the road of what I call the Finnish way of improving education, it’s mostly a road of enhancing and improving equity in education.
Finland’s exceptional schools are the result of four decades of educational reform. It paid off. In 2000 the country rose to the top of PISA, the Programme for International Student Assessment, which tests 15-year-olds’ mastery of reading, mathematics and science. Sahlberg’s Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? traces the evolution of Finland’s current educational system and how it serves to reduce poverty and inequality.
All Finnish children receive a healthy lunch and snack. They have universal dental, health and psychological care. If they need special help, they have free access to trained professionals. Schools focus on cooperation rather than competition so children will have confidence as they grow. Children are helped to find meaning and passion rather than trained to be good cogs in an industrial machine. If I were starting over in school, I would feel fortunate to be in a system like that.
Every school system is a reflection of national values. Finland’s approach is child friendly and leads to a society where few people fall through the cracks. It gives me hope.